NASA Announces New Launch Date for Artemis 1 Mission
NASA’s mega moon rocket has been slow to get off the ground (literally), but the agency says in its latest status update that the first Space Launch System rocket is almost ready for launch. The vehicle is still undergoing testing, but NASA plans to return it to the launchpad next month. If everything goes as planned, it could launch as soon as August 29th.
The Space Launch System (SLS) is at the heart of NASA’s plans for the Artemis lunar missions, which will deliver the first woman to the moon and could lead to a permanent human presence on and around Earth’s lone satellite. Before any of that happens, NASA has to prove that the SLS works with the uncrewed Artemis I mission.
NASA previously rolled the Artemis 1 rocket out to the launchpad in April for a “wet dress,” which involves fueling the rocket and running through launch preparations. However, issues with the tower and internal valves scuttled that test, and NASA sent the SLS back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for repairs. This was far from the first delay for the SLS, which has cost more than $23 billion so far. The SLS is also an expendable vehicle — no parts of it are recovered for reuse like SpaceX does with the Falcon 9 (and hopes to do with Starship).
Having spent the last several weeks addressing those issues, the agency now says it plans to bring Artemis I to the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center on August 19th, says Ars Technica. The main task still remaining is to activate the SLS flight termination system, which will destroy the rocket if it veers off-course. NASA has identified three launch windows on August 29, September 2, and September 5. The redundancy is necessary as tropical storm activity is usually nearing its maximum around that time. If it misses all three due to weather or a new bug, SLS will have to return to the VAB to have the termination system serviced. That means another attempt wouldn’t be possible until October or November at the earliest.
All three of the proposed launch windows will allow for a “long-class” mission, which will demonstrate not only the rocket’s capabilities but also that of the Orion crew module. Orion will take either 39 or 42 days (depending on the launch date) to travel to the moon and back. It will splash down in the Pacific Ocean in mid-October, paving the way for Artemis 2. This will be the first crewed mission, featuring a lunar flyby but no landing. NASA currently expects this to happen in May 2024. Artemis 3 in 2025 will be the first moon landing in decades. But the entire timeline could be pushed back again if the next few weeks don’t go perfectly.