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NASA’s new moon rocket to depart launchpad after failed test

NASA has decided to pause plans for a wet dress rehearsal involving its next-generation lunar rocket after a slew of issues over the last couple of weeks conspired to derail efforts.

The space agency said it wants to make some repairs, as well as assess the current situation, and will therefore roll the powerful SLS moon rocket and Orion spacecraft from the launchpad back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA’s new SLS moon rocket arrived at the launchpad for the first time four weeks ago ahead of a test involving filling the rocket with fuel and a mock countdown.

The first attempt at the rehearsal took place at the start of this month, but was called off due to a fan issue impacting the rocket’s mobile launcher.

A day later, on April 4, a second effort was halted when engineers spotted a stuck valve on ground equipment linked to the test procedure.

The third effort, conducted last week, was a scaled-down procedure that focused on fueling only the core-stage tanks instead of attempting to fill the upper stage as well. But even this method hit a snag after engineers identified a liquid hydrogen leak, prompting the team to stand down.

It was initially hoped that the test could resume in the coming days, but NASA announced on Sunday that it was returning the rocket to the assembly building to make some fixes before trying again. The pause in proceedings has also been linked to work being carried out by an off-site supplier.

“Due to upgrades required at an off-site supplier of gaseous nitrogen used for the test, NASA will take advantage of the opportunity to roll SLS and Orion back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to replace a faulty upper stage check valve and a small leak on the tail service mast umbilical,” the space agency said. “During that time, the agency also will review schedules and options to demonstrate propellant loading operations ahead of launch.”

NASA will hold a media teleconference at 3 p.m. ET on Monday, April 18, to discuss the status of the wet dress rehearsal.

The failure to perform a successful wet dress rehearsal is a setback for NASA, though at the same time, such tests are designed to surface issues, allowing engineers to get everything right for launch day.

The rehearsal is the last big test before the uncrewed Artemis I mission, which will use the SLS rocket to power the Orion spacecraft on a fly-around of the moon. Launch is scheduled for no earlier than May, but the recent issues are likely to cause that target date to slip.

Following a successful Artemis I flight, Artemis II will take the same route, but this time carrying a crew on board. The highly anticipated Artemis III mission, currently 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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Trevor Mogg
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