NASA called off a critical fueling test of its Artemis 1 moon rocket on Sunday due to safety concerns with ground equipment on the booster’s mobile launcher platform.
Technicians planned to fuel the Artemis 1 megarocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), with 700,000 gallons of super-cold propellant on Sunday (April 3) at Pad 39B of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The fueling test was the final stage of a three-day “wet dress rehearsal” designed to test launch countdown process for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission to the moon later this year.
But a problem on Artemis 1 rocket’s mobile launcher, a platform that includes its gantry tower and other vital equipment, foiled the test, NASA officials said. A system that uses fans to pressurize the mobile launcher and keep out harmful gases apparently failed.
“The fans are needed to provide positive pressure to the enclosed areas within the mobile launcher and keep out hazardous gases,” NASA wrote in an updateSunday. “Technicians are unable to safely proceed with loading the propellants into the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage without this capability.”
Live updates: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos
With Sunday’s scrubbed attempt, NASA’s next opportunity to test fueling operations could occur as early as Monday (April 4), but NASA will have to weigh the availability of fuel — the SLS rocket uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellant — as well as launch range schedules.
NASA’s Artemis 1 SLS rocket is standing atop Pad 39B, which neighbors Launch Pad 39A, where a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch four private astronauts to the International Space Station on Wednesday (April 6) on the Ax-1 mission for the company Axiom Space. That Ax-1 mission’s launch was delayed from an April 3 target to make way for NASA’s Artemis 1 fueling test.
Agency officials have said the Ax-1 mission must launch by April 7 or so to avoid even more delays to a subsequent SpaceX astronaut launch for NASA, a mission called Crew-4 currently scheduled for April 20, that will ferry four more astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.
“Teams will discuss range and commodity availability as part of the forward plan,” NASA officials said of the Artemis 1 fueling test in the update. A press conference is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) to discuss the agency’s plan.
Artemis 1 is NASA’s first mission to the moon of the Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2025 or so. The mission will use NASA’s first Space Launch System rocket to launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the moon and return it to Earth.
If all goes well with the flight, NASA aims to launch a crewed Orion spacecraft around the moon in 2023 followed by the the Artemis 3 crewed landing mission sometime later.
The Artemis 1 “wet dress rehearsal” is a critical step in verifying the SLS rocket is ready for launch. The booster is NASA’s most powerful rocket ever and the agency’s first moon rocket since its Saturn V rockets launched Apollo astronauts in the 1960s and 1970s.