The motto of the Artemis mission has always been “Let’s go”. But yesterday it was clear that NASA’s mega-lunar rocket was going nowhere after eight hours of weather delays, a suspected thermal casing crack, a hydrogen leak and finally a fatal engine cooling problem.
Just minutes after the launch window opened at 8:33 a.m. Florida time, launch supervisor Charlie Blackwell-Thompson made the decision to scrub the climb after engineers failed to find a solution to the coolant problem.
It’s the latest complication of the Artemis program, which was supposed to start last year but fell behind schedule before being hit by a series of technical failures during dummy runs earlier this year.
Now it seems that many issues have yet to be resolved, while new stumbling blocks are just beginning to emerge.
The cancellation was a bitter blow to the thousands who had flocked to the beaches around Cape Canaveral to see the first launch of the Artemis mission, billed as this generation’s Apollo, which aims to have astronauts back up by 2025 to bring the lunar surface.
Such was the growing excitement that reporters and VIPs were advised to be at the press site by midnight, eight and a half hours before the start window opened, to avoid congestion. But trouble started soon after, when a thunderstorm rolled in from the south and delayed refueling until it was over.
Just as this system began to unravel, a new weather cell was discovered and the green light to fill the huge tanks was not given until 1:14 a.m. local time, delaying the launch by an hour. Storms had dogged the mission all week.
The launch in the volatile Florida summer is far from ideal, but technical problems earlier in the year left Nasa with no choice but to try to ramp up the Mega Moon rocket before the weather worsened.
Just as the weather was clearing up, the launch was marred by another problem – a hydrogen leak which resulted in the refueling test being scrubbed.
Although the problem was resolved and the main tanks were filled by 5 a.m., a new crisis erupted almost immediately thereafter, with a suspected crack in the rocket’s thermal envelope.
An investigation determined the problem was not fatal, but by then engineers had determined that engine number three was not cooling sufficiently despite being flooded with liquid hydrogen.
It turned out that the system had never been tested in samples. Since time was running out and there was no solution, NASA canceled the launch.
US astronaut Stan Love, an adviser to the mission, said: “I came down here hoping to see the smoke and fire, but unfortunately we didn’t launch today. There was a problem with getting cold gas on the engines before take off to prepare them for the lightning strike and suddenly all the propulsion had to flow through them, they had to be in a strict temperature range before they could do that. We’re not sure why, we’re not sure when we can try again.”
It is unclear whether the rocket would have launched even if all the technical issues had been resolved, as rain started just after 8.30am. The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket cannot fly in the rain.
Of the canceled launch, Bill Nelson, a Nasa administrator, said: “We’re not launching until it’s right. I think it shows that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all of these things have to work.”
The earliest opportunity for a relaunch is September 2 or 5, but the US space agency said it didn’t know if it had fixed the problem in time.
But time is ticking as Florida weather is expected to only get worse as it enters hurricane season.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/north-america/houston-we-have-a-problem-time-running-out-for-nasa-as-engine-cooling-issue-grounds-mega-moon-rocket-41945977.html Houston, we have a problem – Nasa is running out of time as an engine cooling issue is bringing the Mega Moon rocket to the ground