NASA has delayed the launch of its colossal next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket as an engine bleeding problem forced the agency to cancel its plans.
The launch director halted the Artemis I launch attempt at approximately 8:34 am ET. SLS is a key component of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send humans back to the Moon by 2025. The massive rocket will carry the Orion crew capsule, which aims to deliver its first astronauts by 2024.
“Launch controllers continued to assess why a purge test to get the RS-25 engines in the lower core stage to the proper temperature range for liftoff was unsuccessful and ran out of time in the launch window. two hours”. the agency said in a blog post.
The SLS was scheduled to lift off at approximately 8:33 a.m. ET, but was canceled after NASA determined it could not launch successfully. NASA scientists determined that the number three engine could not reach the proper temperature range to allow a launch. The rocket remains in “stable and safe condition,” the agency said.
NASA first reported the engine problem at 6:33 a.m. ET:
While loading of liquid oxygen into the interim cryogenic propulsion stage continues and the core stage tanks continue to be refilled with propellant, engineers are troubleshooting a problem that conditions one of the RS-25 engines (Engine 3) at the bottom of the middle stage. Launch controllers condition the engines by increasing pressure in the core stage tanks to bleed some of the cryogenic propellant into the engines to bring them into the proper temperature range to start them. Engine 3 is not getting properly conditioned through the bleeding process and engineers are troubleshooting.
The next attempt is scheduled for Friday, September 2 at approximately 12:48 pm ET. If that launch is successful, the mission will last 39 days, with Orion plunging into the ocean on October 11. If it doesn’t launch at that time, a third launch window will open on Monday, September 5.
NASA controllers are keeping the rocket in its current state as they continue to collect data on this issue. It’s unclear what that means for the rocket before the agency attempts the next launch.
If all three launch dates are not successful, NASA will face an undesirable situation. Teams must fully test the flight termination system, which is used to destroy the rocket if something goes catastrophically wrong during launch, before launch, and that work can only be done inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Once SLS is implemented from the VAB, there is a 20-day time limit for the flight termination system before it needs to be retested. That means the rocket must launch within 20 days of launch, or it must be returned to the VAB so the flight termination system can be checked again. That testing takes time, so if SLS is forced to return to the VAB after its August launch, it likely won’t be ready to fly until the end of October.
When and if NASA can successfully launch, the next notable flight is scheduled for 2024, when the agency has said it will send a crew of astronauts around the moon and back without landing. Then, in 2025, NASA plans to launch the first manned moon landings since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. This landing will include the first woman to walk on the Moon.
One of the main objectives of this flight is to test Orion’s heat shield, which will have to withstand temperatures of 2,800 degrees Celsius when entering the Earth’s atmosphere.