NASA delayed the launch of its colossal next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, as an engine bleed issue forced the agency to scrub its plans.
SLS is a key component of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send humans back to the Moon by 2025. The massive rocket will carry the Orion crew capsule, which aims to carry its first astronauts in 2024.
The SLS was set to take off at approximately 8:33 AM ET, but was scrubbed after NASA determined it could not successfully launch. The next attempt is scheduled for September 2nd at approximately 12:48 PM ET. If that launch is successful, the mission will last 39 days, with Orion splashing down in the ocean on October 11th. If it doesn’t launch then, a third launch window will open on September 5th.
If all three launch dates prove unsuccessful, NASA will face an undesirable situation. Teams must fully test the flight termination system, which is used to destroy the rocket if something goes catastrophically wrong during the launch, before launch, and that work can only be done inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Once the SLS is rolled out from the VAB, there is a 20-day time limit for the flight termination system before it has to be tested again. That means the rocket has to launch within 20 days of its rollout, or it must be returned to the VAB so that the flight termination system can get checked out again. That testing takes time, so if SLS is forced to come back to the VAB after rolling out in August, chances are it wouldn’t be ready to fly until late October.
After a successful test launch, the next noteworthy flight is set for 2024, when NASA has said it will send a crew of astronauts around the Moon and back without landing. Then, in 2025, NASA plans to launch the first crewed Moon landings since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. This landing will include the first woman to walk on the Moon.
One of the main goals of this flight is testing Orion’s heat shield, which will have to endure temperatures of 2,800 degrees Celsius as it enters Earth’s atmosphere.