Fuel leak spoils NASA’s second attempt to launch a moon rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new lunar rocket caused another dangerous fuel leak Saturday, forcing launch controllers to cancel its second attempt to send a manned capsule into orbit. mole with test dummies.

The first attempt earlier in the week was also marred by leaking hydrogen, but those leaks were elsewhere on the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA.

Launch manager Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team tried to plug Saturday’s leak like they did last time: by stopping and restarting the flow of super-cold liquid hydrogen in hopes of eliminating the gap around a seal in the supply line. . They tried it twice, in fact, and also dropped helium through the line. But the leak persisted.

Blackwell-Thompson finally stopped the countdown after three or four hours of futile effort.

THIS IS A LAST MINUTE UPDATE. The previous AP story follows below.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new lunar rocket had another dangerous leak Saturday as the launch team began fueling for liftoff in a test flight that is due well before get the astronauts on board.

For the second time this week, the launch team began loading nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the 322-foot (98-meter) tank. rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA. Monday’s attempt was stopped by a bad engine sensor and a fuel leak.

As the sun rose, an overpressure alarm sounded and the tanking operation was briefly halted, but no damage was done and the effort was resumed. But minutes later, hydrogen fuel began to leak from the engine section at the bottom of the rocket. NASA halted the operation, while engineers scrambled to plug what was believed to be a gap around a seal in the supply line.

Countdown clocks continued to tick toward an afternoon takeoff; NASA had two hours on Saturday to get the rocket out.

NASA wants to send the crew capsule on the rocket around the moon, pushing it to the limit before the astronauts take the next flight. If the five-week demonstration with test dummies is successful, astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land on it in 2025. The last time people walked on the moon was 50 years ago.

Forecasters expected generally favorable weather at the Kennedy Space Center, especially toward the end of the two-hour launch window in the afternoon.

On Monday, hydrogen fuel leaked from another part of the rocket. Technicians had tightened the connections over the past week, but launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson stressed that she wouldn’t know if everything was tight until fueling on Saturday.

An even bigger problem on Monday, a sensor indicated that one of the rocket’s four engines was too hot, but engineers later verified that it was actually cool enough. The launch team planned to ignore the faulty sensor this time and rely on other instruments to make sure each main engine cooled properly.

Before igniting, the main engines must be as cold as the liquid hydrogen fuel flowing into them at -420 degrees Fahrenheit (minus -250 degrees Celsius). Otherwise, the resulting damage could lead to an abrupt engine shutdown and aborted flight.

Mission directors accepted the additional risk posed by the motor problem, as well as a separate problem: cracks in the rocket’s foam insulation. But they acknowledged that other problems, such as fuel leaks, could cause another delay.

That didn’t stop thousands of people from clogging the shoreline to watch the Space Launch System rocket fly off. Local authorities expected massive crowds due to the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA’s Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during NASA’s Apollo program, the last time in 1972.

Artemis, years late and billions over budget, aims to establish a sustained human presence on the moon, with crews eventually spending weeks there. It is considered a training ground for Mars.


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