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NASA ‘Not Ready to Give Up’ After Engine Problem Delays Artemis I Rocket Launch

NASA is moving forward with plans for a second attempt to launch its next-generation rocket on Friday, September 2, after an engine problem forced the agency to cancel today’s planned launch.

NASA halted the Artemis I launch attempt at approximately 8:34 a.m. ET on Monday, citing the failure of one of the Space Launch System’s (SLS) rocket’s four engines to reach the proper temperature. SLS is a key component of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send humans back to the Moon by 2025.

The next attempt is scheduled for Friday, September 2 at approximately 12:48 pm ET. Michael Sarafin, manager of the Artemis mission, said Friday is “definitely up for grabs,” but noted the agency team needs time to analyze the data before making decisions about the likelihood of a successful launch.

“There is a non-zero probability that we will have a launch opportunity on Friday,” Sarafin said during a briefing with reporters. “We are going to play all nine innings here. We’re not ready to give up yet.”

NASA officials provided more context on the engine issue that led to today’s launch being canceled. The launch team had trouble getting one of the four RS-25 engines up to temperature for liftoff, leading to the decision to delay it. Engine temperatures should be recorded on 500 ranks for a launch to be feasible, Sarafin said.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“Once we finished loading propellant into the rocket, both the core stage and the upper stage, they started purging the engine,” Sarafin said. “We talked in our flight readiness review about engine bleeding. We knew that was a risk heading into this launch campaign, and it would be the first time we’d successfully demonstrated that.”

Sarafin said the engine needs to be at a “cryogenically cold temperature so that when it starts, you’re not surprised by all the cold fuel flowing through it. So we needed a little more time to assess that.”

But officials cautioned that today’s delay should not be seen as an engine malfunction, but rather a problem with the purge system. Sarafin acknowledged, adding that officials knew he could be a risk for today’s launch.

Sarafin called the past 48 hours “very dynamic,” including a hydrogen leak that was quickly resolved and several rays on the towers that support the SLS rocket. But when asked if the rocket might need to be “rolled back” from its position on the launch pad, officials demurred.

“That’s getting ahead of our data reviews, and we need the team to rest and come back tomorrow,” Sarafin said. “We’ll do our best to see where the data takes us and if we can figure it out operationally on the platform.”

The next few days will be crucial for NASA as it examines all of the data that contributed to today’s delay. And in the run-up to the next two launch windows, time will be against the agency.

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 and the Orion crew capsule will sink into the ocean on October 11. If it doesn’t launch at that time, a third launch window will open on Monday, September 5.

But if NASA determines that the rocket must be moved from the launch pad to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center, those dates could be changed. Before each launch, teams must fully test the flight termination system, which is used to destroy the rocket if something goes catastrophically wrong during launch, and that work can only be done inside the VAB. 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.

Jim Free, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA, concluded with some advice for those hoping to see a rocket launch today, including Vice President Kamala Harris: “Plan a week-long vacation in Florida and you might see a pitch.”

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