NASA's second attempt to launch its brand-new Artemis 1 moon rocket over the weekend was unsuccessful due to a fuel leak. According to agency officials, it will probably take weeks to correct and might even push the megarocket off its launch pad.
That evaluation and the recommended repairs will keep Artemis 1 on the ground for at least another two weeks.
When NASA attempted to fuel its enormous Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket to launch Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight to the moon, from Pad 39B here at Kennedy Space Center, liquid hydrogen leaked on Saturday morning (KSC). Engineers attempted to stop the leak three times, but were unable and ultimately decided to take a break to properly evaluate the issue.
"We will not be launching in this launch period," Jim Free, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems development, said.
The launch period ends on Tuesday (Sept. 6). Artemis 1 must now wait until the next window, which spans from September 16 until October 4, to attempt again. However, because to safety considerations that could force the SLS rocket back into KSC's vast Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) during the repairs, it may end up slipping further into October - another window runs from Oct. 17 to Oct. 31.
The first Artemis 1 launch attempt, on Aug. 29, was canceled after the team discovered that one of the four RS-25 engines powering the SLS core stage wasn't adequately cooling down before launch. Analyses quickly linked the problem to a defective temperature sensor, and the team opted to try again on Saturday.
The hydrogen leak that the mission team discovered on Saturday was unlike the one they discovered on Monday because it was much larger. The NASA-designated "quick disconnect," a fitting that joins a liquid hydrogen fuel line to the core booster to fuel it for launch, caused the leak on Saturday close to the base of the SLS rocket.
According to Mike Sarafin, NASA's Artemis 1 mission manager, the leak happened following a brief "inadvertent" overpressurization of the fuel line that was three times the allowed pressure.
Artemis 1 will launch an uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit and back. The mission, the first in NASA's Artemis moon exploration program, is intended to demonstrate that both vehicles are ready to carry astronauts, which will occur for the first time on the Artemis 2 trip around the moon in 2024, if all goes as planned.