Artemis I has been postponed again due to another unexpected problem. A liquid hydrogen leak developed while loading the fuel in the core stage of NASA's mega Moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), on Saturday. Third time's a charm? NASA has already ruled out another "early September" launch attempt, so we may be looking at October.
There’s a clear disappointment for both professionals and people wanting to witness the beginning of NASA’s next big adventure to the Moon, but Artemis I is first and foremost a test. The SLS and Orion spacecraft have never been sent to space before, which is why the mission is uncrewed and longer than the first crewed Artemis missions are expected to be. The goal is to have the highest certainty of safety before humans are let anywhere near it.
“The cost of two scrubs is a lot less than a failure,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said Saturday during a press conference. “We do not launch until we think it's right.”
Some time today and tomorrow, the mission team will decide when the next launch attempt will occur. The first possible launch window opens on September 19 and closes on October 4, though September 29-30 have been ruled out. The following one begins on October 17 and ends on October 31.
A possible source of the leak was a command sent to the system inadvertently raising the pressure in the rocket’s tank, before fueling operations. This might have led to the seal shifting and causing the leak. The team is investigating if this was at all responsible for the leak or if something else is entirely to blame.
The late September/early October launch might be more difficult to pull off due to the launch of four astronauts to the ISS on a SpaceX rocket. Crew-5, which will see the first Native American woman in space, astronaut Nicole Aunapu, is currently planned for launch on October 3.
Another issue is that if Artemis stays on the launchpad it won’t meet the requirement by the Eastern Range for the certification on the flight termination system. This is the rocket’s self-destruct mechanism that is used in case SLS goes on an unpredicted and dangerous trajectory. The system batteries have to be reset every 25 days and that can only be done in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, so the rocket will have to be rolled back in and out before a new launch can be attempted again.