Nasa cancels Moon rocket launch because of engine problem

Everyone at the Kennedy Space Center was waiting – and willing – this rocket to go up.

So there is a real sense of disappointment here, but not of surprise.

You have to remember that this is a new rocket – it’s never been put through it’s paces before – so a scrub was always possible.

But if the rocket isn’t working perfectly – it can’t fly – and everyone here accepts it.

There’s no doubt they’ll be trying again – now we’re just waiting to find out when.

“You don’t want to launch a candle until it’s ready to go”, says Nasa administrator Bill Nelson following the cancelled launch of Amtemis I.

Speaking on Nasa’s live feed he said: “We don’t launch until it’s right”.

The rocket is a “very complicated machine” he said, adding that Nasa was testing the aircraft in “a way you would never do with the human crew on board.

“This is just part of the space business and particularly a test flight”, he said.

There’s a lot of technical language to digest here – especially when it comes to the Artemis I rocket and all its parts.

If you’re getting confused – or just want some extra detail and a visual – we’ve created a detailed animation of the Space Launch System (SLS).

Controllers ran out of time in the two-hour launch window to solve an engine bleed issue, Nasa says.

As we’ve reported, the launch of Armestis I was cancelled today, known as a scrub.

Nasa says launch controllers were continuing to evaluate why a bleed test was not successful and ran out of time.

The test was being conducted to get the RS-25 engines on the bottom of the core stage to the proper temperature range for lift-off.

Nasa says engineers will continue to gather additional data.

The cancelling of today’s mission “isn’t unexpected”, says Dr Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, who points out that there were snags during dress rehearsals earlier in the year.

“It literally is rocket science,” she tells the BBC.

Dr Smethurst commends the engineers involved, saying she imagines the atmosphere on the ground was “insane” as Nasa personnel rushed around trying to find a last-minute fix for an engine issue.

She says she’s “confident” that a couple more days will be enough to fix any snags ahead of a second launch attempt on Friday.

Space exploration is not cheap, especially when it involves hardware that must keep humans safe.

The Space Launch System and Orion have been in development for over a decade and have cost, in each case, more than $20bn (£17.1bn) to get to this point.

But what about the ongoing costs? A recent assessment from the Office of Inspector General (OIG), which audits Nasa programmes, found that the first four SLS missions would each cost more than $4bn (£3.4bn) to execute – a sum of money the OIG described as “unsustainable”.

Nasa counters that it is changing the way it contracts industry and this will bring down future production costs significantly.

Hundreds of thousands of people travelled to Florida with the hope of seeing the launch of Artermis One on Monday.

However, as we’ve reported, the rocket launch has been cancelled – leaving crowds likely already considering their journey home.

There have been calls for motorists to “take heed” and watch out for people heading back.

The Space Launch System has been called the “mega Moon rocket” – for good reason.

Not only is it a colossal 98m high, it’s also the most powerful rocket Nasa’s ever built.

Standing on the launchpad, 90% of its weight is fuel: vast amounts are needed to get this monster off the ground.

So, it uses two enormous rocket boosters, as well four huge engines, to do the heavy lifting.

It needs all this power to escape the gravity of the Earth, and then push a spacecraft – called Orion – towards the Moon.

Orion is located near the top of the rocket, and it’s where the astronauts will eventually sit in future missions.

The spacecraft has an epic journey – it will fly more than a million miles – as it travels around the Moon and then returns to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific.

“I just have to say pretty bluntly here: we’ve been there before.” That’s what US President Barack Obama said when he cancelled the pre-Artemis project to get back to the Moon.

So why are we going back? Well, it’s unfinished business, scientifically.

The Moon is where you go to find out things about the geological history of Earth. Our planet has erased much of its past, weathering and recycling its rocks.

The Moon preserves the conditions that existed early in the Solar System, billions of years ago. We go to the Moon to learn about us.

But we also go there to learn how to go to Mars.

The Moon is not far away. If you get into trouble, you can come back quickly. Getting to and from Mars is much more difficult, and if you choose to visit the Red Planet, you’d better be prepared.

A Nasa astronaut has been speaking to the BBC, and said the kind of technical issues currently being experienced are “very common”.

“Especially for the first flight of a brand new spacecraft,” Stan Love says, adding this is the first time the rocket’s been brought close to take off.

He says this is a test flight, meaning there are “many opportunities for new things to crop up” but adds “I really hope we’re ready”.

On the planned journey itself, Love says it’ll be a six-week flight where engineers and astronauts’ main aim is to “make sure every part of that spacecraft works [before we] bring it back to Earth”.

Providing everything goes to plan, he says a crew will be named upon Artemis’ return and training will begin soon after – bringing us one step closer to humans reaching the Moon again.

While the Artemis I was originally scheduled to launch at 08:33 local time (13:33 BST) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it can be pushed back as far as 10:33 local time (15:33 BST) if necessary due to weather or technical issues.

If take-off isn’t possible during that time frame, Nasa has two back-up dates ready: 2 September and 5 September.

These launch windows are largely driven by the rocket’s Flight Termination System (FTS), which has a battery certified for 20 days, beginning with its installation on the SLS on 18 August.

If the take-of doesn’t take place by then, the FTS will have to be removed and replaced.

Nasa officials, however, have expressed confidence that the take-off will take place on one of the three scheduled dates.(BBC)

•PHOTO: Space Launch System (SLS) is smaller but more powerful than the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo missions