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NASA delays Artemis I launch for second time

NASA has once again scrubbed the maiden launch of its Space Launch System (or SLS) rocket after engineers failed to fix a persistent hydrogen leak.

A hydrogen leak was first detected this morning, soon after the rocket began fueling with liquid hydrogen. NASA said The leak “developed on the supply side of an 8-inch quick disconnect while attempting to transfer fuel to the rocket.” The team made three troubleshooting attempts, but the leak was discovered after each attempt to fix the problem. After the third time, the engineers recommended a ‘no go’ launch. Immediately, the mission’s launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, decided to scrub the launch attempt.

SLS is intended to be one of the workhorses of NASA’s Artemis program. For this mission, known as Artemis I, the uncrewed Orion crew is tasked with launching a capsule around the moon. In future missions, NASA will try to return astronauts to the lunar surface using SLS, Orion and additional instruments.

The agency also scrubbed the SLS’s previous launch attempt, scheduled for Aug. 29, citing problems with the engine bleed system that helps the engines get to the right temperature before takeoff. A hydrogen leak was also discovered during that launch attempt.

NASA has one more launch window left — from 5:12 PM to 6:42 PM on September 5 — before it faces a major delay. The intended flight termination system needs to be retested relatively frequently (it used to be once every 20 days, but NASA has extended it to 25 days) to prevent the rocket from becoming a dangerous missile if something goes wrong during launch, and testing cannot be done on the launch pad.

As the rocket reaches the launchpad on August 16, NASA will have most of the time after September 5. If SLS does not launch, it will need to be returned to NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building, where the cancellation system can be tested again. This will take time, the launch could be pushed back as soon as possible by the end of October.

If the launch is successful, it could pave the way for NASA’s first crewed mission in the Orion capsule next year. They’ll continue to fly around the moon, not land on it — a milestone planned for 2025, when we’ll see the first woman walk on the moon.

Additional reporting by Mary Beth Griggs

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