Artemis I Back on the Pad, This Time for Launch

Artemis I Back on the Pad, This Time for Launch

The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission is back at Launch Complex-39B at Kennedy Space Center, FL. The “stack” made the four mile trip back to the launch pad overnight for what NASA hopes is the last time as it continues to target August 29 for launch. No person will be aboard the rocket this time, but it carries a full load of dreams and aspirations, and a few science and technology experiments as well.

Rollout of the 322-foot tall SLS/Orion stack began about 10:00 pm ET last night, an hour later than planned due to lightning in the area, and arrived at LC-39B around 7:30 am ET this morning.

This was its third trip aboard Crawler-Transporter 2. The stack was on the pad for Wet Dress Rehearsal tests in April and June. Each time it was rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs and final preparations for the next step towards launch.

This time, it’s for launch itself.

SLS/Orion attached to the Mobile Launcher atop Crawler-Transporter 2 on its way to Launch Complex-39B for the Artemis I launch after departing the Vehicle Assembly Building. August 16, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA is careful to refer to August 29 as the “No Earlier Than” (NET) date. Anyone who follows the rocket business knows that launches can be delayed for any number of reasons, especially if it’s the first launch of a new vehicle.

Artemis I is an uncrewed test launch that will send the Orion spacecraft with its European Service Module beyond the Moon and back to Earth, splashing down in the ocean off of San Diego. A number of factors constrain when the launch can occur. The solar arrays cannot be in eclipse for more than 90 minutes and the splashdown needs to take place in daylight, for example. Other constraints also are in play such as how many days are needed between launch attempts to replenish propellant supplies at the launch pad.

For this opportunity if launch does not take place on August 29, the next chance will be September 2 and then September 5. After that is a roughly two week break before they can try again.

  • On August 29, the 2 hour launch window opens at 8:33 am EDT and landing would be 42 days later on October 10.
  • On September 2, the 2 hour launch window opens at 12:48 pm EDT and landing would be 39 days later on October 11.
  • On September 5, the 1.5 hour launch window opens at 5:12 pm EDT and landing would be 42 days later on October 17.
SLS/Orion back at Launch Complex-39B for the Artemis I launch, August 17, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA has calculated launch opportunities for several months in the future in case the launch is further delayed, but those more than two months out are tentative.

Artemis I mission profile. Credit: NASA

Artemis I will take 10 cubesats along for the ride, three of which are from international partners: ArgoMoon (Italy), BioSentinel (U.S.), CuSP (U.S.), EQUULEUS (Japan), LunaH-Map (U.S.), LunIR (U.S.), Lunar IceCube (U.S.), NEA Scout (U.S), OMOTENASHI (Japan), and Team Miles (U.S).

OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration TEchnologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) is the only one that will attempt a controlled landing on the Moon. Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the spacecraft is 14 kilograms (31 pounds) total and the lander is just 715 grams (1.6 pounds). It will make a “semi-hard” landing. If it works, Japan would become the fourth country (after the United States, Soviet Union and China) to successfully make a survivable landing on the Moon. JAXA’s Tatsuki Hashimoto, OMOTENASHI’s project manager, told reporters on Monday that the total mission duration after it separates from SLS is about 5 days and only “a few minutes” of that will be on the lunar surface.

The Artemis I launch has been delayed a number of times. The cubesats were installed onto SLS last year and five are positioned such that their batteries could not be recharged: CuSP, LunaH-Map, LunIR, Lunar Ice Cube, and Team Miles. Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s Chief Exploration Scientist, told reporters on Monday that he is hopeful that if the launch takes place in this August/September window, all 10 will be OK. But he also emphasized that all the shoebox-size cubesats are low-cost “high risk/high reward” projects with recognized limitations.

Other experiments are carried inside Orion, several of which are devoted to collecting data on radiation exposure for crews. The first crewed flight, Artemis II, is expected in 2024 carrying four astronauts, including one from Canada. It will fly around the Moon, but not go into orbit.

The first flight to enter orbit and dock with a lander to take astronauts down to the surface for the first time since the Apollo program is Artemis III, currently planned for late 2025. On Friday, NASA will hold a media teleconference to announce regions of the Moon’s South Pole that are potential landing sites for the Artemis III crew.

Artemis I needs to lead the way.  It’s been a long time coming. In 2014, NASA committed to the first SLS/Orion launch in November 2018. That slipped to December 2019-June 2020, then to mid-late 2021, and now well into 2022. The Government Accountability Office’s most recent review of NASA’s major programs shows development of SLS as 42 months behind schedule and $2.7 billion (42.5 percent) over cost. The Orion program began in 2006, but its baseline cost and schedule have been revised periodically. Using the most recent revision in August 2021, Orion is 13 months behind schedule and $2.5 billion (37.4 percent) over cost.

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