CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –
NASA attempted to seal the leak Tuesday night while refueling its new lunar rocket for a midnight launch, the third time it has tried placing an empty capsule around the moon for the first time in 50 years. five.
Hydrogen fuel gushed out from a valve on the launch pad — a different location from the leak in previous launches. Two technicians and a safety official rushed into the blast area to tighten the valve, with emergency workers on duty.
Quick repairs fixed the leak, allowing hydrogen to continue to flow into the rocket. But then a Space Force radar tracking website went down due to poor ethernet conversions, leading to another scramble. Problems pushed the launch into Wednesday’s midnight, when the countdown stopped at the 10-minute mark.
“We’re sliding indefinitely into the launch window,” said NASA launch commentator Derrol Nail.
“Fuel leaks hampered the first two efforts in late summer, then a pair of hurricanes caused more delays. Although engineers have never determined exactly what caused the hydrogen to escape, they have changed the refueling process to minimize leaks and expressed confidence that all the plumbing in the rocket 322 feet (98 meters) long will remain tight and intact.
NASA added an hour to the operation to account for the slower filling, which is important for reducing pressure on the fuel lines and keeping the washers in place. It appeared to work, but an intermittent hydrogen leak occurred near the end of the six-hour operation. Officials stress that this particular leaky valve is on the launch pad, not the rocket, and is needed to replenish liquid hydrogen as it dissipates from the core stage.
The rocket was gas-filled with nearly 1 million gallons (3.7 million liters) of supercooled hydrogen and oxygen, when the latest leak occurred.
NASA expected 15,000 people to jam Kennedy Space Center for launch Wednesday morning, with thousands more lining the beaches and roads outside the gates. The space agency has two hours to launch the rocket, before stopping until Saturday.
The launch of the Space Launch System rocket, known as SLS, features three test dummies but no astronauts inside the upper crew capsule, which NASA hopes will put into lunar orbit .
This first test flight is expected to last three weeks, culminating in a landing in the Pacific Ocean. NASA’s top priority for the $4.1 billion mission is to verify the capsule’s heat shield during re-entry, so the four astronauts can prepare for the next lunar launch. followed by 2024. This is followed by a moon landing by the two in 2025.
The last time NASA sent astronauts to the moon was in December 1972, the end of the Apollo program.
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