NASA has officially scrubbed this morning's scheduled launch of Artemis 1, what was meant to be the maiden voyage of the agency's massive and extremely expensive Space Launch System, in a series of missions intended to eventually return humankind to the Moon.
"The launch of #Artemis I is no longer happening today as teams work through an issue with an engine bleed," NASA tweeted. "Teams will continue to gather data, and we will keep you posted on the timing of the next launch attempt."
But it's also far from unexpected: a rocket launch can be scrubbed for a very long list of reasons due to the immense degree of complexity involved, and that's especially true for an untested new vehicle.
At the same time, NASA has faced extraordinary pressure on the SLS in particular, after spending well over $10 billion on the rocket and facing years of delays.
The SLS has rocket has turned into a massive political pain point for the space agency, and this morning's scrub is bound to only add to the sting.
The launch of #Artemis I is no longer happening today as teams work through an issue with an engine bleed. Teams will continue to gather data, and we will keep you posted on the timing of the next launch attempt. https://t.co/tQ0lp6Ruhv pic.twitter.com/u6Uiim2mom
— NASA (@NASA) August 29, 2022
The rocket was meant to carry the agency's uncrewed Orion capsule into space, where it would then make its journey around the Moon and back.
NASA officials say they had to cancel the launch attempt due to an engine bleed issue while propellants were loaded into the rocket.
It's unfortunate, as teams wanted to address the issue during an earlier dress rehearsal, but were never able to address it. According to officials, this morning's launch attempt was the only way to really test it out.
There was also a separate hydrogen leak and a crack in the protective thermal layer, which was already addressed by teams on the ground.
A lot is at stake, especially with SpaceX's in-development Starship and its accompanying Super Heavy Booster representing a potentially cheaper alternative to NASA's expensive rocket, if they prove flightworthy.
"This happy talk of it being completed — just look at the language, the celebration, NASA's planning, and so forth for the launch," former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver told Ars Technica last week. "There is not another test flight planned if this doesn't go perfectly."
"It will become inevitably embarrassing if Starship is launching dozens of times a year like Falcon 9 is," Garver added, "and SLS once every two years."
NASA has yet to announce when it will next attempt to launch the behemoth rocket. While the agency does have several backup launch windows, including September 2 and 5, we won't know until later if NASA will have enough time to address the issues.
There is one looming deadline, though. If it can't get the rocket off the ground, within 20 days, The Verge reports, NASA will have to return the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to reevaluate the flight termination system, which is used to explode the rocket if something were to go wrong during launch.
If the agency eventually gets Artemis 1 mission into space, it's set to be followed by Artemis 2, the first crewed mission to lunar orbit since the Apollo days. Artemis 3, which is tentatively scheduled for 2024, would see the first astronauts return to the lunar surface.
Of course, that's just if everything goes according to plan. And as today's scrub goes to show yet again, a lot can go wrong.
READ MORE: NASA delays launch of its massive SLS rocket amid engine issue [The Verge]