NASA has been working on a Rocket Launch to the moon for over a decade that was scheduled to take off this week. The most powerful rocket to ever exist had mechanical issues that forced NASA to postpone the launch. This $23 billion rocket will eventually reach the moon, but the launch date is unknown at this time.
Christian Davenport; August 29, 2022
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA scrubbed the much-anticipated first flight of its Space Launch System rocket Monday after a series of problems with the rocket and the fueling procedures could not be quickly resolved.
The space agency had been planning to launch the massive rocket and the Orion spacecraft, without any astronauts onboard, on a trajectory toward the moon as part of its Artemis program. Now it will stand down and reassess problems with the complicated vehicle that has suffered delays and setbacks for years.
Engineers struggled to get one of the booster’s RS-25 engines chilled to the correct temperature by running liquid hydrogen, kept at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit, through it. They tried a series of fixes, but none worked.
Speaking after the launch attempt on NASA TV, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that the agency does not “launch until it’s right. … I think it’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to work.”
He added that scrubs are “just part of the space business, and it’s part of a test flight. … They’ll get to the bottom of it. They’ll get it fixed, and then we’ll fly.”
The scrub is still a disappointment for NASA and a setback for a program that has suffered all sorts of delays. For years, critics have derided the rocket as the “Senate Launch System,” arguing it does more to create jobs in key congressional districts than open new frontiers. And the delay is yet another issue for the rocket, which struggled to complete key testing milestones before the launch.
NASA ran into a similar problem in June during a test known as a “wet dress rehearsal,” when there was a leak of liquid hydrogen in one of the lines leading from the ground supplies to the rocket. Knowing the fueling lines could pose a problem, NASA officials said the moment would be a key hurdle to clear before launch.
“This is something they wanted to test during wet dress four but were unable to,” Derrol Nail, a NASA broadcaster, said during the agency’s live stream of the launch attempt. “So this was the first opportunity for the team to see this live in action. It’s a particularly tricky issue to get that temperature dialed in.”
In the days leading up to the flight, NASA officials had tried to manage expectations, saying repeatedly that the flight was a test to see how the rocket performs in real-world conditions and warned they would likely encounter problems along the way.
In an interview last week, Nelson said that despite the excitement surrounding the launch, “I want to remind people this is a test flight. We’re going to stress this thing in a way that we would never do with humans onboard. And so I just want to bring everybody back to reality.”
On Saturday, Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, said that the launch “could scrub for any number of reasons. We’re not going to promise that we’re going to get off on Monday. We could have weather, we could have technical issues or we could have a range or public safety hold and or a combination of those.”
Still, it is a setback for the agency, which very much wanted the launch to go well and had prepared a celebratory broadcast with Hollywood stars and performances by Yo-Yo Ma and Herbie Hancock that was shelved when the problems became evident.
NASA has backup launch dates of Sept. 2 and Sept. 5, but it was not immediately clear when it might try to launch again.
NASA got a late start to fueling the rocket when a thunderstorm came within five miles of the launchpad at about midnight. Once the storm passed, engineers began fueling the rocket, first, the liquid oxygen, which was going well, and then the liquid hydrogen. But soon afterward, sensors at the base of the rocket detected a leak. NASA stopped the fueling, then started and stopped again in a fitful effort to keep the launch on track.
NASA was able to fully fuel the first stage and was nearly done with the rocket’s second stage.
“The team did fantastic job working through that problem and get us past it,” Jeremy Graeber, the Artemis I assistant launch director, said during NASA’s live broadcast.
But it ran into a problem when it attempted to prep the engines for launch. Liquid hydrogen was not running through one of the four RS-25 engines mounted to the base of the rocket. As a result, it did not reach the correct temperature needed for launch.
Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut, wrote on Twitter that the scrub was “not surprising — It’s really hard to launch a brand new rocket on the first try — especially one this complex. @NASA has to be careful with this one since they only have this one rocket intended for the Artemis I mission.”
Nelson, who flew in the space shuttle in 1986 when he was a member of Congress, said that scrubs are a normal part of spaceflight. He said his shuttle launch was delayed four times before it took off. But “the fifth try was a flawless mission,” he said.
Photo: NASA/Getty Images