CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Fixing a fuel leak that thwarted NASA’s second attempt to launch its new lunar rocket Artemis 1 on Saturday (Sept. 3) will likely take weeks and could force the giant rocket off the launch pad, space agency officials said.
The liquid hydrogen leak happened Saturday morning when NASA tried to refuel it space launch system (SLS) megarocket to launch Artemis 1an unmanned test flight to the moon, from Pad 39B here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Despite three separate attempts to fix the leak, the engineers were unable to stop it and eventually stopped to assess the situation further.
This evaluation, and the repair work they end up recommending, will keep the Artemis 1 on the ground for at least two more weeks.
“We will not be launching in this launch period,” Jim Frey, NASA associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said at a briefing Saturday afternoon after the launch.
The launch period ends on Tuesday (September 6). Artemis 1 will now have to wait until the next window, which runs from September 16 to October 4, to try again. But it could end up sliding deeper in October – another window from October 17 to October 31 – due to safety requirements that could force the SLS missile back into the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at KSC during repairs. (There is also a potential conflict during the previous window: SpaceX’s Crew Astronauts Mission 5 to the International Space Station scheduled to take off October 3 from KSC’s Pad 39A.)
First attempt to launch Artemis 1, on Monday (August 29th), purified After the team noticed that one of the four RS-25 engines powering the SLS core stage was not properly cooled prior to launch. Analytics quickly traced this problem to a faulty temperature sensor, and the team decided that Go ahead and try another on Saturday.
Expedition team members also managed to solve the hydrogen leakage problem during Monday’s attempt, but what they saw on Saturday was different: it was much larger. Saturday’s leak occurred near the base of the SLS rocket in what NASA calls a “quick disconnect,” an installation that connects a liquid hydrogen fuel line to a core booster to refuel it for launch. Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission manager, said the leak occurred after a brief “unintended” fuel line excessive pressure that was three times the acceptable pressure.
“This was not a manageable leak,” Sarrafin said. He added that the leak led to levels of flammable hydrogen gas near the rocket several times higher than the acceptable range. Sarafin said it’s too early to tell if the leak was caused by an overpressure event (triggered by a faulty manual command from the Launch Control Center) or not.
“We want to be thoughtful and careful about drawing conclusions here, because correlation does not equal causation,” he said.
However, one thing is clear: The quick-disconnect soft-seal gasket will likely be replaced. NASA engineers will meet next week to decide whether this can be done at Launch Pad 39B (which will require a special container to be built around the site) or if the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket should be brought back inside. VAB for easy access.
As is currently the case, the SLS missile needs to return to the VAB soon in order to test the flight termination system, which is designed to destroy the missile with explosives if it veers off course. The US Space Forcewhich oversees the eastern range of missile launches, requires NASA to test the safety system every 25 days, and this can only be done at the VAB.
The 25-day deadline for Artemis 1 is approaching, so NASA will need a compromise to keep the moon rocket on the platform if it wants to fix the leak there. It is not clear at this time whether the mission team plans to obtain such a waiver.
“I think we’ll talk to Ring about the possibilities,” Frey said.
Frey and the two exchanges said the picture will likely start to become clearer as early as next week, after the Artemis 1 team got more time to analyze the data and discuss options. But they stressed that canceling the launch today was the right move, as did NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who also took part in the briefing.
“Although we didn’t get at all what we wanted today, I can tell you these teams know exactly what they’re doing, and I’m very proud of them,” Nelson said.
Two scrubs will end up costing NASA some money, as Artemis 1 will need to use more liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen than originally planned. Nelson stressed that these additional expenditures are acceptable.
“The cost of two scrubs is much less than failure,” he said.
Artemis 1 will send an unmanned Orion capsule on a long journey to lunar orbit and back. Mission – First at NASA Artemis program For lunar exploration – Designed to show that both vehicles are ready to transport astronauts, which will first occur on Artemis 2’s lunar flight in 2024, if all goes according to plan.
Ten small cubes fly on Artemis 1, to conduct a variety of scientific work and test different technologies. If Artemis 1 returns to VAB, the cube’s batteries can be recharged, but it’s unclear at this point if this step is necessary for any of them, Sarafin said.
Space.com editor Mike Wall contributed to this report. Email Tarek Malik at [email protected] or follow him Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab). Follow us Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab)And the Facebook (Opens in a new tab) And the Instagram (Opens in a new tab).
“Beer fan. Travel specialist. Amateur alcohol scholar. Bacon trailblazer. Music fanatic.”