CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, USA (AP) — NASA filled the fuel tank of its lunar rocket Wednesday as part of a leak test before attempting a launch the following week.
The test will last all day and will determine if the 98-meter (322-foot) rocket is ready for its flight test, a mission to lunar orbit that will carry dummies instead of astronauts.
Mission chiefs want to verify repairs made to all the hydrogen leaks that botched the first two launch attempts, as well as previous countdowns. During a countdown earlier this month, a leak of hydrogen released more than twice as much as allowed by NASA.
The space agency replaced two seals after the most recent delay. One of them had a minor crack.
“The team is really excited to carry out this test. Everyone has been hard at work these past few days,” said NASA engineer Wes Mosedale from Kennedy Space Center Launch Control.
Wednesday’s goal is to pump nearly 1 million gallons (4 million liters) of fuel into the rocket, with no or a few tolerable leaks. In case of passing the test, NASA could try a new launch on Tuesday.
Once launched, the capsule carrying the rocket will be the first to orbit the Moon in 50 years. The $4.1 billion mission is expected to last more than five weeks and end with a splashdown in the Pacific. In a second test flight, scheduled for 2024, there could be astronauts on board who will go around the Moon. On the third mission, scheduled for 2025, a pair of astronauts will land on the Moon.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is more powerful than the Saturn V that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The reactors and boosters were from now-retired space shuttles. Just like now, NASA struggled with hydrogen leaks in the days of the shuttle, especially in the 1990s.