NASA Calls Off Artemis 1 Moon Rocket Launch

by Amy Myers

Because of an engine cooling issue, NASA has had to call off the long-awaited launch of the moon rocket, Artemis 1.

NASA was in the process of fueling its first Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket to launch Artemis 1. Unfortunately, launch controllers discovered they were unable to chill one of the four main engines, Engine No. 3. According to officials, cooling the four engines is a necessary step in the launch process. Without the proper temperatures, the rocket can’t handle its super-cold propellant of cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. As a result, crews had to cancel the SLS rocket’s launch and its uncrewed Orion spacecraft. Both will complete an ambitious 42-day test flight around the moon.

“While liquid oxygen loading into the interim cryogenic propulsion stage continues and core stage tanks continue to be replenished with propellants, engineers are troubleshooting an issue conditioning one of the RS-25 engines (engine 3) on the bottom of the core stage,” NASA officials shared in a statement today.

Liftoff would have been at 8:33 a.m. EDT this morning.

“Launch controllers condition the engines by increasing pressure on the core stage tanks to bleed some of the cryogenic propellant to the engines to get them to the proper temperature range to start them,” the statement read. “Engine 3 is not properly being conditioned through the bleed process, and engineers are troubleshooting.”

NASA Faced Other Issues During Launch Process of Artemis 1

NASA spokesperson Derrol Nail further stated that the team was unable to the engine conditioning during the “wet dress rehearsal” which concluded in June.

“This is something they wanted to test during Wet Dress 4 but were unable to,” Nail said. “So this was the first opportunity for the team to see this live in action. It’s a particularly tricky issue even going in to get that temperature dialed in, according to engineers.”

Apparently, the engine’s failed conditioning wasn’t the only issue that crews faced during the launch sequence. Among the other glitches that NASA personnel worked through was a liquid hydrogen leak. There was also a potential crack in the intertank flange that connects Artemis 1’s liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks.

“The flanges are connection joints that function like a seam on a shirt, are affixed at the top and bottom of the intertank so the two tanks can be attached to it,” NASA explained.

Thankfully, though, the crack was on the insulating foam, not the structure itself.

“That ice that formed is essentially air that’s being chilled by the tank that gets trapped inside of a crack in the foam but not the actual tank,” Nail said. 

According to Nail, crews had seen a similar crack during June’s wet dress rehearsal. But NASA officials say that the issue “may not necessarily be the same cause.”

Depending on whether the crews can resolve the issue with Engine No. 3, the next liftoff attempt will be on Friday, September 2 or Monday, September 5. Of course, the weather will also play a factor in this.

“The earliest opportunity, depending on what happens with this engine bleed, would be Sept. 2,” Nail said. “However, we will await a determination of what the plan is to go forward.”