Canada Science

Approaching storm may delay launch try for NASA moon rocket

Marcia Dunn, Associated Press

Posted September 23, 2022 5:01 pm EST.

Last updated Friday, September 23, 2022 6:13 pm EDT

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — An approaching storm threatens to delay NASA’s next attempt to launch its new lunar rocket, which has been on the ground for weeks due to fuel leaks.

A tropical depression in the southern Caribbean is moving towards Florida and could become a major hurricane.

On Friday, managers announced that the rocket is now ready for its first test flight after overcoming more hydrogen leaks during refueling tests earlier in the week. This will be the first time in 50 years that a crew capsule has circled the moon; the spacecraft will have dummies, but not astronauts.

The teams will continue to monitor the forecast and will decide by Saturday whether not only to postpone the test flight, but also to take the rocket off the pad and back to the hangar. It’s unclear when the next launch attempt will be in October or even November if the rocket has to seek shelter indoors.

The preference is to stay on the launch pad and try to take off on Tuesday, “but there are still some uncertainties in the forecast,” said NASA’s Tom Whitmyer, deputy assistant administrator for research systems.

Getting the rocket back to the giant Kennedy Space Center vehicle assembly building requires three days of preparation, a 4-mile (6.4 km) trip lasting several hours.

“I don’t think we’re getting close to that,” Whitmyer told reporters. “We’re just taking it step by step.”

The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket can withstand wind gusts of 85 mph (137 km/h) on the pad, but only 46 mph (74 km/h) while moving.

This will be the third attempt to launch the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA. Fuel leaks and other technical problems derailed the first two attempts, in late August and early September.

Although hydrogen fuel leaked through the newly installed seals during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, the launch team reduced the leak to manageable levels by slowing down the flow and depressurizing the lines. This gave the launch team confidence to proceed with the launch attempt on Tuesday, officials said.

Managers said the 30-year space shuttle program also saw many hydrogen fuel leaks and hurricane-related kickbacks. The main engines of the lunar rocket are actually upgraded versions of those that flew on the shuttles.

Also, the Space Force extended the certification of on-board batteries that are part of the flight safety system, at least until early October.

NASA has only two chances to launch the rocket – on Tuesday and October 2 – before the two-week blackout period begins. The next launch period will open on October 17th.

Astronauts will board for a second test flight around the moon in 2024. A third mission, scheduled for 2025, will land a pair of astronauts on the moon.

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