Artemis 1 launch scrubbed after engine issues

The NASA moon rocket stands ready at sunrise on Pad 39B before the Artemis 1 mission to orbit the moon at the Kennedy Space Center, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Joel Kowsky/NASA via AP)

The Space Launch System (SLS) was supposed to have launched today at 7:30 a.m. for the Artemis I mission, but a problem loading the fuel led to NASA Launch Director Charlie Black Thompson giving the order to scrub the mission at 7:35 after engineers were unable to figure out how to fix the problem.

NASA explained that the supercooled liquid hydrogen that powers the RS-25 engine is extremely light and is kept at minus-423 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a difficult propellant to control. NASA conditions the engines by bleeding liquid hydrogen through them approximately an hour before ignition. The bleed line for engine number three failed. While liquid oxygen loading into the interim cryogenic propulsion stage continued and core stage tanks continued to be replenished with propellants, engineers attempted to troubleshoot the unexpected issue with engine number three. Without the bleed line functioning, the correct temperature of the fuel was not kept.

Countdown was halted 40 minutes before launch. After engineers failed to diagnose and fix the problem in time to stay within the two-hour launch window, Thompson ordered the mission scrubbed. The next launch window is Friday at 11:30 a.m. CDT.

Being able to launch then will depend on whether or not NASA engineers can fix the problem in order to safely launch the SLS. This is a problem that NASA calls cryopumping. NASA has experience with this issue as it periodically delayed space shuttle missions as well.

While the SLS is fully fueled, engineers are gathering data on engine number three in an attempt to understand and resolve the issue.

“We don’t launch if it is not right,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “It is illustrative that this is a complicated machine, and it is a very complicated system.”

Nelson said that sometimes missions have to be scrubbed.

“It is just part of the space business, and it is particularly part of a test flight,” Nelson said.

Vice President Kamala Harris was on hand for the anticipated launch.

“She is fully briefed on the whole thing,” Nelson said. “She is a very enthusiastic space flight booster, as is President (Joe) Biden.”

Artemis I was not a crewed mission.

It was the first test of the SLS and the Orion spacecraft, which is designed to carry astronauts. The Artemis missions, NASA hopes, will take American astronauts back to the moon. This was the first attempt to launch the multibillion-dollar rocket paired with the Orion module.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the project, which has cost $23 billion to this point.

The goal of the Artemis program is to create a sustainable human presence on and in a space station, Gateway, that will orbit the moon.

Artemis I will launch the Orion capsule to the Moon. It is expected to spend 42 days in space and orbit the Moon before returning to Earth. It will take six days just to reach the Moon.

Artemis II will be crewed and will carry as many as four astronauts into lunar orbit. Artemis III is expected to land on the Moon as early as 2025. It is too early to tell if today’s issue that led to the launch being scrubbed will further delay future Artemis missions.

The SLS has been designed and engineered at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

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