NASA’s Artemis 1 Moon Launch Cancelled For Today Due To Engine Problems

The SLS rocket is visible in the backdrop of a sunrise at NASA's KSC during its first launch attempt earlier this week. Image: NASA

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Artemis 1 launch has been scrubbed as the agency rushed to solve an issue with the rocket's engines. The launch will see the Space Launch System (SLS) roar to the skies from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as it tests the platform that will form the backbone of a decades-long NASA effort to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon. NASA engineers kicked off the SLS's tanking operations, which involve loading the rocket up with close to a million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, an hour after midnight today Eastern Time after weather constraints pushed the timeline forward by 45 minutes. Since then, teams at the KSC have had to solve one issue after another, as they raced towards a two-hour launch window that started at 8:33 am ET today.

Artemis 1's launch director Ms. Charlie Blackwell-Thomspon called off the mission at 8:36 am today, after NASA delayed its live launch coverage of the event. At the core of the problem is an inability to cool down one of the SLS's four engines with engineers so far being unable to rectify the issue.

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The first issue that teams had to face off with was beyond their control as they had to wait before loading hydrogen into the SLS's massive tanks due to a greater than 20% probability of lightning striking the area at 12 A.M. ET today. However, as they waited for the clouds to pass over, engineers prepared their systems to begin the fuel loading as soon as conditions were favorable.

SLS uses liquid hydrogen as its fuel, and around 1 AM ET today, the weather was a go for the tanking operations to begin. These operations were crucial for the SLS rocket in particular, as NASA had faced problems with them during Artemis's wet dress rehearsal earlier this year. After the tanking operations began, things proceeded smoothly for a while until a leak in the area of the rocket connected to the launch tower was detected.

The SLS rocket's engines with the condensate at the KSC in the night. Image: NASA

This was the first real test for Ms. Blackwell-Thomspon and her engineers, and they overcame the problem by manually chilling the liquid hydrogen.

However, even as they took a sigh of relief, the engineer and team's next test would trouble them for much longer and eventually lead to the mission being scrubbed. Prior to liftoff, the four engines at the base of the SLS are cooled so that they systems can handle the super chilled hyrdogen and liquid oxygen flowing through them.

This requires NASA to flow the hydrogen through their systems, and it was at this point that the engineers discovered that one of the four engines was not sufficiently cooling down. The teams tried several attempts to resolve this issue, and eventually, it led to the countdown being stopped at forty minutes left to liftoff.

The teams were unable to test this segment of the pre-launch process during the Artemis 1 wet dress rehearsal and it was speculated before today's events that they would be among the most likely to cause a scrub. During the time spent troubleshooting, the engineers also tried reducing the hydrogen pressure to the other three engines in order to see if the pressure for engine number three would increase.

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However, all such attempts were unable to resolve the issue, and at 8:36 AM ET today, three minutes after the rocket would have lifted off if everything had proceeded smoothly, Ms. Blackwell-Thomspon scrubbed the launch. The next launch data available to NASA is September 2nd, but whether the agency can meet it depends on the results of its investigations for the first test flight scrub.

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