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NASA battles fuel leak for Artemis 1 moon rocket launch

Update, 11: 28 a.m. EDT: The Artemis 1 mission has been scrubbed because of fuel leak. Another possible opportunity is Monday (Sept. 5).


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. NASA engineers will work to stem a fuel leak on its massive new moon rocket before a crucial test flight on Saturday (Sept. 3).

NASA began fueling the Artemis 1 moon rocket, NASA’s first Space Launch System (SLS), early Saturday to launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the moon from Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center at 2: 17 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT). But a persistent liquid hydrogen fuel leak detected has slowed launch preparations.

NASA includes a two-hour window where to launch the mission, with promising weather forecast varying between 60% and 80% “go,” the agency has said. You can view it launch live online.

Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission: Live updates

More: 10 wild factual statements about the Artemis 1 moon mission

The hydrogen leak was initially detected at 7: 15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT) as NASA began filling the massive SLS rocket with the 730,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant necessary for launch. The leak is in the bond point of an 8-inch hydrogen fuel line close to the engine compartment at the bottom of the 32-story rocket.

Engineers first tried to warm the connector and chill it with cold fuel to stem the leak, then tried to repressurize it with helium to resolve it. Both attempts failed, with NASA trying that first warm-and-chill method again to avoid the leak.

A glitch-free fueling process for Artemis 1 may take around four hours, But there’s very little room in the schedule for delays, NASA has said.

It had been through the fueling process (or “tanking” as NASA calls it) that launch controllers hit a snag through the agency’s first launch attempt on Monday (Aug. 29). NASA called off that launch try when it might not concur that among the four RS-25 main engines of the SLS core stage was at its proper chilled temperature of minus 420 degrees Fahrenheit for launch.

The agency ultimately determined a bad sensor caused the problem and implemented workarounds for Saturday’s launch attempt.On Saturday, NASA planned to begin with the primary engine chill down process earlier to permit additional time for the SLS rocket’s engines to attain their target temperature. But that process has been delayed by the fuel leak.

NASA’s Artemis 1 missionis the initial test flight for NASA’s Artemis program to come back astronauts to the moon by 2025. The mission is really a 37-day trip round the moon to verify the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket are safe for astronauts. The mission may also deploy 10 Artemis cubesats on the path to the moon and posesses group of experiments to gauge the astronaut experience on the Orion spacecraft.

Artemis 1 is scheduled to come back to Earth on Oct. 11 with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. If all goes well, NASA aims to launch a crew round the moon on the Artemis 2 mission in 2024, accompanied by the Artemis 3 crewed lunar landing in 2025.

Editor’s note: This story, originally posted at 7 a.m. ET, has been updated to add information on the fuel leak NASA is attempting to stop on the SLS rocket. Follow our Artemis 1 mission live updates page for the most recent on Artemis 1 mission news. Visit Space.com for live webcast.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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Tariq may be the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first being an intern and staff writer, and later being an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, and also skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com’s Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was an employee reporter for The LA Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He could be also an Eagle Scout (yes, he’s got the area Exploration merit badge) and visited Space Camp four times as a youngster and a fifth time being an adult. He’s got journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and NY University. To see his latest project, it is possible to follow Tariq onTwitter.

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