NASA has yet again delayed the final major test of its Space Launch System (SLS), which will be used to carry humans to the Moon, initially, and then to Mars and beyond. The agency announced it has suspended the “wet dress rehearsal” after issues with maintaining the pressure in the mobile launcher — which provides support for the rocket up until launch — prevented technicians from safely loading propellants into the rocket. Lightning strikes were also reported on Saturday. Engineers have been working to address the issues and NASA has updated that it is targeting to resume the final test before the Artemis I uncrewed mission on Monday.
The wet dress rehearsal before the mega 322-foot Space Launch System (SLS) rocket was okayed for flying had begun Friday at the Kennedy Space Center and it was set to complete by Sunday. However, some fans on the mobile launcher failed to maintain positive pressure within the enclosed areas. This pressure is needed to keep out hazardous gases. As a result, NASA engineers couldn't “safely proceed” with the fuel-loading process, the agency said, adding that they are exploring the next opportunity to load the fuel on Monday (April 4).
“Teams have decided to scrub tanking operations for the wet dress rehearsal due to loss of ability to pressurise the mobile launcher,” NASA stated in a blog post.
A wet dress rehearsal involves going through all procedures, including loading hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel into the rocket, except for launching it. On Saturday night, while the tests were on, NASA encountered some rough weather as lightning struck the lightning towers around the mega rocket's launchpad. NASA stated that there were four lightning strikes, including one higher in intensity.
The SLS, comprising the super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft, is expected to launch on the initial uncrewed mission this summer - Artemis 1. After that, it will carry astronauts to the Moon, the first time in more than three decades. NASA intends to use the SLS for future human Mars missions under the Artemis programme.