NASA’s Artemis 1 launch ruined by a leak; next try weeks away

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The second attempt this week to launch a crew capsule into lunar orbit with test dummies had to be aborted after NASA’s new moon rocket suffered another hazardous fuel leak on Saturday. Weeks or perhaps months have passed since the maiden flight.

Although they were minor, hydrogen leaks plagued the earlier attempt on Monday to launch the Space Launch System rocket, which is the most potent NASA has ever produced. On top of that, leaks discovered earlier in the year during countdown drills were discovered.

The rocket was moved off the launch pad and into the hangar for more repairs and system updates following the most recent failure, according to the mission managers. There may be some maintenance and testing done at the pad beforehand.

The rocket is currently suspended until late September or October as a two-week launch ban is about to begin. A high-priority SpaceX astronaut voyage to the International Space Station slated for early October will be accommodated by NASA.

In particular on a test mission like this where everyone wants to validate the rocket’s systems “before we send four humans up on the top of it,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson emphasised that safety is the primary priority.

“Just remember: We’re not going to launch until it’s right,” he said.

NASA has been waiting years to orbit the moon in a crew capsule atop a rocket. Astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land there in 2025 if the six-week demonstration is successful. 50 years have passed since the last lunar landing.

At dawn, the Space Launch System rocket was just beginning to be filled with nearly 1 million gallons of fuel when a sizable leak in the bottom engine section emerged. Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team had just begun this process.

Ground controllers made an attempt to stop it by stopping and beginning the flow of extremely cold liquid hydrogen in an effort to close the breach around a supply line seal, as they had done with earlier, smaller leaks. In fact, they tried that twice, and also flushed helium through the line. But the leak persisted.

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A number of little hydrogen leaks appeared in places on the rocket during Monday’s attempt. Over the next few days, technicians tightened the fittings, but Blackwell-Thompson had emphasised that she wouldn’t know if everything was tight until Saturday’s fuelling.

Due to their extreme small size—the smallest in the universe—hydrogen molecules can escape via the smallest crack or opening. Hydrogen leaks were a common problem with NASA’s space shuttles, which are now gone. The new moon rocket utilises the same main engines.

It was an even bigger issue on Monday since a sensor said one of the rocket’s four engines was too warm, even though experts later confirmed it was actually cool enough. This time the launch team was going to disregard the bad sensor and use other equipment to make sure each main engine was appropriately chilled. But the countdown was never that long.

In anticipation of witnessing the Space Launch System rocket launch, thousands of people swarmed the shore during the extended Labor Day weekend.

(With inputs from agencies)

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