NASA tries fueling moon rocket in test, but leak reoccurs

NASA tries fueling moon rocket in test, but leak reoccurs

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s new moon rocket sprouted another fuel leak Wednesday as engineers tested the plumbing ahead of a launch attempt as early as next week.

The daylong demo had barely begun when hazardous hydrogen fuel began escaping at the same place and same time as before, despite new seals and other repairs. Engineers halted the flow and warmed the lines in hopes of plugging the leak, and proceeded with the test. The leak continued to persist.

Wednesday’s results will determine whether the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket is ready for its first test flight, a lunar-orbiting mission with mannequins instead of astronauts.

Hydrogen leaks spoiled the first two launch attempts, as well as earlier countdown tests. The countdown this month saw so much hydrogen escape that NASA’s limit was more than twice exceeded. Wednesday’s leak came close to the limit, but the launch team managed to get the leak down to acceptable levels as the test continued.

After the previous delay, NASA replaced two seals. The one with the tiny indentation measured just one-hundredths of an inch.

” Although it doesn’t seem like much, we are dealing with hydrogen, the smallest element in the periodic table. Mission manager Mike Sarafin said that this is not a big deal.

Wednesday’s objective: pumping nearly 1 million gallons (4 million liters) into the rocket, with minimum leakage. That would put NASA on course for a possible launch attempt Tuesday, provided the U.S. Space Force extends the certification of batteries on board that are part of the flight safety system.

NASA also replaced seals and accelerated the loading of super-cold liquid hydrogen (and oxygen) into spacecraft. The launch team acted even slower after Wednesday’s leak to ensure that the plumbing was not under more stress.

Once launched, the crew capsule atop the rocket will be the first to orbit the moon in 50 years. The $4. 1 billion mission should last more than five weeks, ending with a splashdown in the Pacific. Astronauts would climb aboard for the second test flight, dashing around the moon in 2024. The third mission, targeted for 2025, would see a pair of astronauts actually landing on the moon.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket has a greater power rating than the Saturn V rocket which sent Apollo astronauts into space during late 1960s, early 1970s. Just like now, NASA struggled with elusive hydrogen leaks during the shuttle era, especially during the early 1990s.

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