NASA’s newest attempt to launch its Space Launch System or SLS in a matter of days is being met with a setback as the agency revealed that there will be a delay that could last for several weeks.
The launch windows were originally expected to be between Monday and Tuesday but the space agency has now scrubbed the launch attempt due to an issue with the rocket’s engines.
The launching of the SLS was supposed to debut as far back as August 29th but it was halted when engineers at the agency noticed an issue with the temperature of one of the rocket’s four engines.
Another attempt made to launch today was also canceled by a persistent hydrogen leak that Artemis mission manager Michael Sarafin described as “large” during a press conference while explaining the cause of the cancellation.
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Also, note that there was a small hydrogen leak during the initial launch attempt on the 29th but it got larger recently.
The SLS has been in development for several years now and has seen a lot of setbacks. The gigantic rocket was set to launch the uncrewed Orion capsule on the Artemis I mission.
The mission was designed to serve as a test flight in an attempt to pave the way to take astronauts back to the moon.
The agency hasn’t announced when it will be attempting to launch the Artemis I mission but we think the agency might have an idea in the coming days.
NASA engineers are said to be focusing on part of the fueling system which sends liquid hydrogen fuel into the rocket and which can quickly disconnect from the rocket after fueling.
The “quick disconnect” as it’s called has a seal around and it’s designed to keep hydrogen from leaking out, it’s referred to as “soft goods”.
One of the ways NASA is looking to solve this problem is by removing and replacing the soft goods around the quick disconnect.
Also, the engineering teams are trying to agree on whether to replace this part and troubleshoot any other issue back in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) or if they should do so while the rocket is on the pad.
Whichever approach the engineers take comes with its own risks and benefits as noted by the agency’s boss.
If NASA stayed on the pad, they could test the system at cryogenic temperatures, which would give them a better idea of how it would behave during a real launch. However, they would also need to build an environmental enclosure to stay at the pad.
But if they decide to go back to the VAB, the building itself is the environmental enclosure but while being able to replace and test the broken parts at the VAB, it will only be able to do so at an ambient temperature and to cryogenic.
Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator said if the SLS rolls back into the VAB for repairs, the next launch attempt would likely happen in mid to late October after a planned crew mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Rolling such a megarocket back to the VAB takes several hours.
There are also complications too. When the rocket is rolled out to the pad on August 16th, the agency had a 20-day window to launch the rocket before it would have to be rolled back in order to test its batteries in the rocket’s flight termination system.
The termination system is part of the rocket that the Space Force can use to destroy the rocket if anything goes wrong during the launch and flight.
However, the agency got approval to extend this window to 25 days even though that time is almost coming to an end.
Unless NASA gets another extension, it will have to travel back to the VAB anyways.
“We do not launch until we think it’s right,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a press conference. “So I look at this as part of our space program, of which safety is at the top of our list.”