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Why NASA Will Wait Longer to Launch the Artemis Moon Rocket

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — For the second time in every week, NASA officials on Saturday called off the test launch of a rocket that’s to someday carry astronauts to the moon. It was one other setback for a signature national spaceflight program, though NASA officials expressed confidence that may or not it’s just a short lived one.

But top NASA officials stood behind their decision to call off Saturday’s launch, and said that they were able to wait longer, perhaps trying again later this month or in October, after the explanation for a hydrogen leak is known and resolved.

“The fee of two scrubs is lots lower than a failure,” Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, said during a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

Though 322 feet tall, NASA’s latest rocket just isn’t literally too big to fail. But when it comes to the vehicle’s importance to the space agency’s moon plans, it perhaps is.

NASA has already spent greater than $40 billion to develop the rocket, referred to as the Space Launch System, and the capsule, referred to as Orion. This system is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. And it has faced criticism from supporters of a more business approach to spaceflight, who say firms like Elon Musk’s SpaceX offer essentially the most cost-effective and efficient strategy to advance human journeys to space.

Because NASA has a lot invested on this one rocket, a catastrophic failure would delay the moon program by years and maybe result in questioning of its value.

Even individuals who usually are not fans of the Space Launch System said NASA’s caution is prudent.

“They’re not going to launch prematurely,” said Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator throughout the Obama administration who has said the rocket is just too expensive and prefers business approaches to spaceflight. “I don’t worry about that.”

The moon landings half a century ago were a part of NASA’s Apollo program. The brand new return-to -the-moon effort has been named Artemis. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the dual sister of Apollo.

The scrubbed launch is for Artemis I, a weekslong, uncrewed mission that can test the rocket and the capsule where future astronauts will ride. The subsequent Artemis mission, currently scheduled for 2024, could have astronauts aboard, and the third Artemis mission is to land astronauts near the moon’s south pole.

Because the countdown clock ticked toward a launch on Saturday, a hydrogen leak was detected in a connector along the hydrogen fuel line resulting in the rocket.

“We all know that if you get above roughly a 4 percent concentration of hydrogen in ambient air, you’re prone to having a flammability event,” said Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager.

For this leak, which Mr. Sarafin described as large, the concentrations were two to 3 times the 4 percent limit. After three attempts to seal the leak failed, the launch attempt was called off at 11:17 a.m. Eastern time by the launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson.

Mr. Sarafin said that the issue may need been related to an incorrect command sent to the propellant-loading system on the launchpad, causing overly high pressures — 60 kilos per square inch as an alternative of 20 — within the fuel line for a number of seconds. That would have damaged the gasket within the connector.

A hydrogen leak appeared at the identical connector throughout the first launch attempt on Monday, but it surely was smaller, and engineers found out easy methods to keep the hydrogen concentration under 4 percent, and so they were in a position to refill the rocket with 537,000 gallons of ultracold liquid hydrogen. Monday’s launch was called off when a faulty sensor reported that considered one of the rocket’s 4 core-stage engines was not sufficiently chilled.

After Saturday’s launch was called off, NASA officials considered options for what to do next. One was to easily disconnect and reconnect the fuel line and try and launch again in a few days. “But our confidence level, given the scale of the leak that we saw today, was fairly low that that may solve the issue,” Mr. Sarafin said.

The mission managers decided the gasket can be have to be replaced, and engineers are considering whether it could be higher to try this work on the launchpad, where they might then run liquid hydrogen through the road to make sure the fix was successful, or first roll the rocket back to a behemoth structure referred to as the Vehicle Assembly Constructing. It could be easier to perform the repair work there, but engineers wouldn’t give you the chance to check the road with liquid hydrogen until the rocket returned to the launchpad.

Jim Free, an associate administrator at NASA, said in a tweet that he and others on the agency were “dissatisfied on the final result but happy with our team for consistently bringing solutions forward.”

While Ms. Garver said the launch teams did the appropriate thing by calling off the launch each times, she wondered in regards to the design of the Space Launch System, which uses largely the identical engines and solid rocket boosters that powered the space shuttles — technology that dates back greater than half a century.

“The alternative to make use of shuttle engines did lock in hydrogen, and we all know hydrogen is leaky,” she said. “Those are all design decisions that, in the event that they proceed to bite us, will probably be of concern.”

But, she added, “Assuming they’ll recover from it in the following round. I feel it would be forgotten.”

Even among the dissatisfied spectators looked as if it would understand.

It was the second time in days that throngs of individuals along Central Florida’s waterways and beaches faced disappointment at missing their probability to soak up the primary launch of essentially the most powerful rocket for the reason that Saturn V took astronauts to the moon within the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies.

Last Monday, Vincent Anderson, 45, of Lake Alfred, Fla., took a ship tour along with his son within the hopes of seeing the rocket launch. It was to not be.

To his 10-year-old, he said: “Rockets are finicky like cats, they go up once they need to.”

Then the scene replayed again this morning, when Mr. Anderson had signed up for one more boat tour, this time along with his 15-year-old daughter. He called the scrub “bittersweet” but hedged that they’d begun the day with “the identical expectations of ‘probably won’t occur.’”

The launch again didn’t occur, however the outings were still value it, he said.

Christine Chung contributed reporting.

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