CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. — An approaching storm threatens to delay NASA’s next launch attempt for its new moon rocket, which has already been grounded for weeks due to fuel leaks.
A tropical depression in the southern Caribbean is moving toward Florida and could become a major hurricane.
Managers declared on Friday that the rocket is now ready to take off on its first test flight, after overcoming more hydrogen leaks during a fuel test earlier in the week. It will be the first time a manned capsule has orbited the moon in 50 years; the spacecraft will carry mannequins but not astronauts.
The teams will continue to monitor the forecast and will decide by Saturday whether to not only delay the test flight, but also get the rocket off the pad and back into the hangar. It is not clear when the next launch attempt would be, either in October or even November, if the rocket must seek shelter inside.
The preference is to stay on the launch pad and attempt a liftoff on Tuesday, “but there are still some uncertainties in the forecast,” said Tom Whitmeyer, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems.
It takes three days of preparation for the rocket to return to Kennedy Space Center’s giant Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) journey that takes several hours.
“I don’t think we’re getting close,” Whitmeyer told reporters. “We’re just taking it one step at a time.”
The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket can withstand gusts of 85 mph (137 kph) on the pad, but only 46 mph (74 kph) once in motion.
This would be the third attempt to launch the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA. Fuel leaks and other technical problems scraped the first two attempts, in late August and early September.
Although hydrogen fuel showed through the newly installed seals during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, the launch team reduced the leak to acceptable levels by slowing the flow and reducing pressure in the lines. That gave the launch team the confidence to proceed with a launch attempt on Tuesday, officials said.
Managers said the 30-year-old space shuttle program also saw many hydrogen fuel leaks and hurricane-related setbacks. The lunar rocket’s main engines are actually upgraded versions of what flew on the shuttles.
Additionally, the Space Force has extended certification of onboard batteries that are part of the flight safety system, through at least early October.
NASA has only two opportunities to launch the rocket: Tuesday and October 1. 2 – Before a two-week lockout period begins. The next release period would open on October 1. 17
The astronauts would come aboard for the second test flight around the moon in 2024. The third mission, scheduled for 2025, would see a pair of astronauts land on the moon.
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