NASA has decided to pause plans for a wet dress rehearsal with its next-generation moon rocket after a slew of issues in recent weeks derailed efforts.
The space agency said it wants to make some repairs and assess the current situation and will therefore roll the powerful SLS moon rocket and Orion spacecraft from the launch pad back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA’s new SLS moon rocket first arrived at the launch pad four weeks ago, ahead of a test that involved filling the rocket with fuel and a countdown.
The first attempt at rehearsal took place early this month but was called off due to a problem with the fan hitting the rocket’s mobile launcher.
A day later, on April 4, a second attempt was halted when engineers spotted a stuck valve on ground equipment related to the test procedure.
The third attempt, conducted last week, was a scaled-down procedure that focused on filling only the tanks in the core phase rather than trying to fill the top phase as well. But even this method ran into a problem after engineers discovered a liquid hydrogen leak, forcing the team to resign.
Initially it was hoped that the test could resume in the coming days, but on Sunday NASA announced it would return the rocket to the assembly building to make some repairs before trying again. The pause in the procedure is also linked to work performed by an external supplier.
“Due to upgrades required at a third-party supplier of gaseous nitrogen used for the test, NASA will take the opportunity to roll SLS and Orion back to the vehicle assembly building to repair a faulty check valve in the upper stage and a small leak on the tail service mast’s umbilical cord,” the space agency said. “During that time, the agency will also review schedules and options to demonstrate pre-launch propellant charging.”
NASA will hold a media conference call on Monday, April 18 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the status of the wet dress rehearsal.
Failure to perform a successful wet dress rehearsal is a setback for NASA, though at the same time such tests are designed to reveal problems so engineers can get everything right before launch day.
The rehearsal is the last major test for the unmanned Artemis I mission, which will use the SLS rocket to power the Orion spacecraft during a circumnavigation of the moon. The launch is scheduled for no earlier than May, but recent issues will likely push that target date back.
After a successful Artemis I flight, Artemis II will take the same route, but this time with a crew on board. The highly anticipated Artemis III mission, currently planned no earlier than 2024, will bring the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface in the first manned landing since 1972.