NASA said it will monitor the prediction and decide whether to postpone the launch no later than Saturday.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An approaching storm threatens to delay NASA’s next launch attempt for its New Moon rocket, which has been grounded for weeks by fuel leaks.
A tropical depression in the southern Caribbean is heading towards Florida and could become a major hurricane.
Managers said Friday the rocket is now ready to take off on its first test flight after overcoming further hydrogen leaks during a refueling test earlier in the week. It will be the first time a crew capsule has orbited the moon in 50 years; The spacecraft will carry mannequins, but no astronauts.
The teams will continue to monitor the prediction and will decide by Saturday at the latest whether to not only postpone the test flight but to tow the rocket off the pad and back to the hangar. It’s unclear when the next launch attempt would take place – whether October or even November – if the rocket will have to seek shelter indoors.
One would prefer to stay on the launch pad and attempt a Tuesday launch, “but there are still some uncertainties in the prediction,” said NASA’s Tom Whitmeyer, deputy assistant administrator for exploration systems.
It takes three days of preparation to get the rocket back into Kennedy Space Center’s massive vehicle assembly building, a 4-mile (4-kilometer) journey that takes several hours.
“I don’t think we’re close,” Whitmeyer told reporters. “We’re just taking one step at a time.”
The 322-foot rocket can withstand gusts of 85 mph at the pad but only 46 mph when in motion.
This would be the third launch attempt for the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA. Fuel leaks and other technical problems scrapped the first two attempts in late August and early September.
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Although hydrogen leaked past newly installed seals during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, the launch team was able to reduce the leakage to acceptable levels by slowing the flow and reducing pressure in the lines. That gave the launch team confidence to proceed with a launch attempt Tuesday, officials said.
Managers said the 30-year space shuttle program has also seen many hydrogen leaks and hurricane-related rollbacks. The lunar rocket’s main engines are actually upgraded versions of what flew on shuttles.
In addition, the Space Force has extended the certification of onboard batteries that are part of the flight safety system – at least until early October.
NASA has only two chances to launch the rocket – Tuesday and October 2 – before a two-week lockdown begins. The next launch phase would begin on October 17th.
Astronauts would board for the second test flight around the moon in 2024. The third mission, scheduled for 2025, would land two astronauts on the moon.
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