NASA hopes to launch its giant rocket onto the moon’s surface in late August.
NASA is working out three “placeholder” launch dates for Artemis 1, an unmanned test flight around the moon that will serve as a test bed for future human missions: August 1. September 29. 2 and september. 5. These dates are pending repairs and modifications, however, to the Space Launch System rocket and related systems in light of the results of the June 20 “rehearsal” that NASA declared successful, officials said in a conference call with the media on Wednesday (July 20) .
“It’s not an agency commitment,” Jim Frey, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems, said of the tentative launch dates. NASA will announce a more assertive commitment about a week before launch, he said, when the agency completes its standard flight readiness review of the Artemis 1 stack, including the SLS and Orion capsule above the rocket.
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Frye added that the tentative dates in late August and early September are what “the team is working towards and has a plan.” “But [we have] Lots of work left over from things we have to do, and perhaps learn from, including those close to us.”
The shutdowns are temporary approvals of major systems required for launch, flight to the moon and back in order to splash water on Earth. NASA has a checklist of items to perform on the SLS stack before it leaves the vehicle assembly building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as work continues to address issues it encountered during wet training.
The latest Artemis 1 wet dress rehearsal was deemed good enough by NASA to move forward with preparations for launch. Engineers fully refueled the SLS for the first time during the three-day test. But the team encountered a hydrogen leak from the engine cooling system line in the core stage “umbilical”.
During testing, the leak was resolved by closing a dripping valve in the hydrogen flow path. This workaround allowed the team to complete the wet garment, but it would not work during the actual launch because closing the bleed valve leaves the engine’s thermal systems without proper regulation. (Operators ran a software “mask” during testing to allow the countdown to continue, while allowing the ground sequencer to indicate temperature variation as it was designed to do so.)
Subsequently, it was retreated to VAB on July 2 for maintenance, including repairs to a quick disconnect component on the SLS’ rear navel that was blamed for a hydrogen leak. Technicians also inspect vehicles, repair hydrogen leaks, replace core stage seals, install flight batteries, store payloads, perform power tests on the Orion, and perform program loads on the SLS core stage and upper stage.
NASA officials said during the call Wednesday that they were making good progress on these repairs, but that they followed carefully to make sure Artemis 1 was ready before allowing it to leave the building. Staff have already replaced the navigation and control assembly unit and are testing the batteries and verifying the temporary cooled thrust stage that will give the Orion capsule a thrust toward the moon during its mission.
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Cliff Lanham, senior director of vehicle operations for NASA’s Earth Exploration Systems Program, said Artemis 1 must pass a rigorous set of operational maintenance requirements “to say the vehicle is ready.”
Once the SLS stack completes those tests within the VAB, it will be allowed to move to the board, which could happen as soon as August. 18 If all goes well.
While the entire test suite is lengthy, some of the key tests the agency is monitoring include tests of the SLS’ flight termination system, the rocket’s engine section, the missile’s front skirt housing the flight’s computers and avionics systems, and the Orion spacecraft.
NASA officials said that all three launch attempts offer different mission periods and launch timings. August. 29 Launch Opportunity will open at 8:33AM EST (1333 GMT) and take two hours; Assuming a successful Artemis 1 launch, the Orion capsule will return to Earth 42 days later in order to be sprayed in October. 10.
September. 2 provides a two-hour launch window that opens at 12:48 PM EDT (1748 GMT); In this scenario, Artemis 1 will return after 39 days in October. 11. Last Chance, September. 5, includes a 1.5-hour launch window starting at 5:12PM ET (2212 GMT) and will see Artemis 1 return 42 days later, in October. 17.
As a backup, the agency has identified several temporary launch opportunities through mid-2023, in the event of weather delays or technical issues with Artemis 1.
NASA discussed the progress of Artemis 1 on the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969 which saw man’s first steps on the moon. The agency hopes to get people back there in 2025 or so, pending the results of Artemis 1 and the manned orbital mission, Artemis 2, scheduled to launch no later than 2024.