Skip to main content

NASA still struggling to fuel its Space Launch System rocket

NASA has been performing ongoing tests of its new Space Launch System, also known as the Mega Moon Rocket, which is intended to power an uncrewed trip to the moon later this year and, eventually, to carry humans back to the moon as well. The agency has encountered a variety of issues during the testing process, and it recently attempted a third, modified version of its wet dress rehearsal, but that was called off partway through once again.

NASA has said that the issues it is encountering are not big design problems but rather smaller, technical problems. In a press conference this Friday, April 15, it said it may attempt the test once again as soon as this Thursday, April 21.

Related Videos
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022. NASA/Joel Kowsky

The most recent version of the test, in which the rocket is rolled out to the launch pad and is filled with liquid propellant, was modified from previous efforts to focus on using the ground systems to fill the rocket’s core stage tanks, rather than trying to fill the upper stage as well. However, even with this modified test, there were still issues, following a fan issue in the first test and a stuck valve in the second test. In the most recent test, the team identified a liquid hydrogen leak and had to call the test off. Liquid hydrogen is one of the two fuels used, along with liquid oxygen.

“Engineers encountered a liquid hydrogen leak on the tail service mast umbilical that prevented the team from completing the test,” NASA wrote. “Before ending the test, teams were able to collect additional data by chilling down the lines used to load propellant into the upper stage. The rocket remains in a safe configuration as teams assess next steps.”

The core stage liquid oxygen tank was filled almost halfway when the test was called off, the agency wrote in an update, and the liquid hydrogen tank was filled to around 5% of its capacity. Seeing the leak, the team had to then drain the propellant back out of the rocket to find the source of the leak.

In its press conference, NASA Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said the team could try the test again as early as this Thursday, but they would have to work around a busy schedule at Kennedy Space Center, including the launch of the Crew-4 SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station on Saturday, April 23.

Editors' Recommendations

Roman Space Telescope will survey the sky 1,000 times faster than Hubble
NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

Since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has been delighting space fans with its stunning views of space objects near and far. But NASA has another space telescope in the works that will be able to help answer even more of the big questions in astronomy. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch in 2027 and colloquially known as Roman, will look at vast areas of space to help cosmologists understand the universe on a large scale.

In astronomy research, it's important to be able to look both in very great detail and on a very wide scale. Telescopes like Hubble and James Webb have exceptional sensitivity, so they can look at extremely distant objects. Roman will be different, aiming to get a broad view of the sky. The image below illustrates the differences between the telescopes, showing what Roman and Hubble can capture in one go and comparing Hubble's detailed, but narrow view to Roman's much wider view.

Read more
SpaceX Crew-6 astronauts arrive safely at space station
The space station crew all together following the arrival of SpaceX's Crew-6 in March 2023.

SpaceX's four Crew-6 members have safely boarded the International Space Station (ISS) following a voyage that lasted about 27 hours.

NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:34 a.m. ET on Thursday and reached the orbital outpost about 24 hours later.

Read more
NASA eyes weather for Thursday’s Crew-6 launch. Here’s how it’s looking
From left, NASA astronauts Warren “Woody” Hoburg and Stephen Bowen, along with Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, prepare to depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a dress rehearsal for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission launch on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

NASA and SpaceX are making final preparations for its first crewed launch since October 2022.

The Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:34 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 2 (9:34 p.m. on Wednesday, March 1).

Read more