CAPE CANAVERAL (Florida, US): Nasa’s Artemis I rocket sits on launch pad at Kennedy Space Centre on Saturday.—AFP
CAPE CANAVERAL (Florida, US): Nasa’s Artemis I rocket sits on launch pad at Kennedy Space Centre on Saturday.—AFP

KENNEDY CENTER: Nasa on Saturday scrapped a second attempt to get its new 30-story rocket off the ground and send its uncrewed test capsule towards the Moon after engineers detected a fuel leak.

With millions around the globe and hundreds of thousands on nearby beaches waiting for the historic launch of the massive Space Launch System (SLS), a leak near the base of the rocket was found as ultra-cold liquid hydrogen was being pumped in.

“The launch director waived off today’s Artemis I launch,” Nasa said in a statement. “Multiple troubleshooting efforts to address the area of the leak did not fix the issue.” Though the area around the launch site was closed to the public, an estimated 400,000 people had gathered nearby to see — and hear — the most powerful vehicle that Nasa has ever launched climb into space.

The initial launch attempt on Monday was also halted after engineers detected a fuel leak and a sensor showed that one of the rocket’s four main engines was too hot.

Early on Saturday, launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson had given the go-ahead to start filling the rocket’s tanks with cryogenic fuel.

About three million liters of ultra-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen were due to be pumped into the spacecraft, but the process soon hit problems. No new date for another try was immediately announced.

After the latest delay, there are backup opportunities on Monday or Tuesday. After that, the next launch window will not be until Sept 19, due to the Moon’s position.

The purpose of the Artemis 1 mission is to verify that the Orion capsule, which sits atop the SLS rocket, is safe to carry astronauts in the future. Mannequins equipped with sensors are standing in for astronauts on the mission and will record acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2022

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