After a thwarted attempt earlier this week, NASA will try to launch its next-generation megarocket Saturday on a test flight to the moon, agency officials announced Tuesday.
The debut flight of NASA's uncrewed Space Launch System (SLS) rocket was scheduled to take place Monday, but the launch was called off after engineers encountered a temperature problem with one of the booster's core-stage engines as the rocket was being loaded with propellant.
Mission manager Mike Sarafin said in a news briefing Tuesday that teams have been investigating the issue at the launch pad and the agency will be ready to try the test flight, known as Artemis I, again this weekend.
NASA is now targeting a two-hour launch window Saturday at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, beginning at 2:17 p.m. EDT.
John Honeycutt, manager of the Space Launch System Program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said the problem may have been a faulty sensor on the rocket, but added that changes will be made to the fueling process on Saturday.
During Monday's liftoff attempt, a liquid hydrogen line used to cool the rocket’s core-stage engines malfunctioned partway through the launch countdown. The SLS's engines need to be cooled to cryogenic temperatures prior to launch to avoid shocking the system with ultracold fuel when ignited.
Sarafin said teams will begin the engine cooldown earlier in the launch countdown Saturday, which may help the systems reach the desired temperature prior to liftoff.
Weather may be a concern this weekend, with showers and possible thunderstorms passing over Kennedy Space Center, said Mark Burger, the launch weather officer with the U.S. Space Force.
Burger said there is currently a 60% chance of a weather violation, but added that there will likely be clear conditions at points during the two-hour launch window.
“Showers tend to have quite a bit of real estate between them, so I still think we have a pretty good opportunity weather-wise to launch on Saturday,” he said Tuesday in a news briefing.
If the test flight is called off due to weather, NASA officials said they could try again on Sept. 5.
The uncrewed test flight is a six-week journey to orbit the moon. The expedition is designed to test both the huge SLS rocket and NASA's Orion capsule before the agency sends astronauts back to the lunar surface.
NASA’s return to the moon program, Artemis, is named after the goddess of Greek mythology who was the twin sister of Apollo. As part of the Artemis program, NASA envisions regular missions to the moon to establish a base camp on the lunar surface, before the agency eventually ventures to Mars.