CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA is considering a second firing of its moon rocket engines after a critical test came up short over the weekend, a move that could bump the first flight in the Artemis lunar-landing program into next year.
The space agency had aimed to launch its new Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket and an empty Orion capsule by the end of this year, with the capsule flying to the moon and back as a prelude to crew missions. But that date could be in jeopardy following Saturday’s aborted test.
All four engines fired for barely a minute, rather than the intended eight minutes, on the test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The countdown rehearsal for the 212-foot (65-meter) core stage — made by Boeing — included the liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks, as well as the all necessary computers and electronics.
On Tuesday, NASA attributed the automatic shutdown to the strict test limits meant to protect the core stage so it can be used on the first Artemis flight. The hydraulic system for one engine exceeded safety parameters, officials said, and flight computers shut everything down 67 seconds into the ignition.
Two other engine-related issues also occurred.
NASA said it can adjust the test limits if a second test is deemed necessary, to prevent another premature shutdown. Engineers will continue to analyze the data before deciding on the next step.
The Artemis program is working to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024, a deadline set by the Trump administration. It’s uncertain how the incoming White House will approach that timeline.