NASA said on Wednesday it had successfully tested the refueling process for its new rocket, after technical problems a few weeks ago halted two attempts to get the behemoth off the ground and head for the moon.
“All the goals we set for ourselves, we were able to achieve today,” said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the program called Artemis 1.
The unmanned mission hopes to test the new 30-story SLS rocket as well as the unmanned Orion capsule that sits atop, in preparation for future trips to the Moon with humans on board.
In early September, NASA’s most powerful rocket’s final launch attempt had to be aborted due to a leak as its cryogenic fuels – liquid hydrogen and oxygen – were pumped into the rocket’s tanks.
Repairs were made and Wednesday’s test involved refilling those tanks.
Although a small hydrogen leak was detected during the test, NASA engineers were able to bring it under control.
Last week, NASA said it was now targeting September 27 as the next launch date. October 2 was set as the backup date.
“Teams will evaluate test data, along with weather conditions and other factors, before confirming that they are ready to move on to the next launch opportunity,” NASA said.
Asked when the next launch attempt will be, Blackwell-Thompson declined to comment, although she said she was “extremely encouraged by today’s test.”
US officials are also closely monitoring the path of Hurricane Fiona off the Atlantic coast.
For the September 27 date to be possible, NASA must receive a waiver to avoid retesting batteries on a detonation system used to destroy the rocket if it veers uncontrollably off course.
The next mission, Artemis 2, would take astronauts to the Moon without landing on its surface, while the third – scheduled for the mid-2020s – would see the first woman and person of color on lunar soil.
NASA wants to build a lunar space station called Gateway and maintain a sustained presence on the Moon to better understand how to survive very long space missions, ahead of a mission to Mars in the 2030s.