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NASA calls off second try at moon rocket launchpad test

NASA has called off a second attempt at a launchpad test of its next-generation rocket destined for lunar missions as part of the Artemis program.

The so-called “wet dress rehearsal” would have involved NASA filling its powerful Space Launch System (SLS) with fuel before conducting a mock countdown.

But engineers brought a halt to proceedings at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida late afternoon on Monday after they noticed a stuck valve on ground equipment linked to the test.

“During chilldown of the lines in preparation for loading the liquid hydrogen, the teams encountered an issue with a panel on the mobile launcher that controls the core stage vent valve,” NASA explained in a post on its website. “The purpose of the vent valve is to relieve pressure from the core stage during tanking. Given the time to resolve the issue as teams were nearing the end of their shifts, the launch director made the call to stop the test for the day.”

The space agency said a team will further investigate the issue before deciding on a new schedule for the test.

Despite the setback, the team said in a tweet that “a lot of great learning and progress” had been achieved during Monday’s efforts.

The first attempt at conducting the wet dress rehearsal took place on Sunday, April 3 but was called off after an issue was discovered with the rocket’s mobile launcher.

NASA's SLS rocket on the launchpad.
NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, April 4.

The important rehearsal is the last major test before the uncrewed Artemis I launch, which up until recently, had been tentatively scheduled for next month. It’s not clear if the latest issues will affect that proposed date.

The Artemis I test flight will see the SLS rocket power the new Orion spacecraft to orbit. Orion will then perform a fly-around of the moon before returning to Earth. If all goes to plan, Artemis II will fly the same path, but this time with a crew on board, while Artemis III, set for no earlier than 2024, will put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface in the first crewed touchdown since 1972.

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