Artemis I Launch Slips to Late August or September At the Earliest

Artemis I Launch Slips to Late August or September At the Earliest

As NASA gets ready to resume a critical test in preparation for Artemis I, the first launch of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, the head of the Artemis effort conceded today that the launch is unlikely before late August or September at the earliest. A variety of factors constrain the launch to a roughly two-week period each month and the July-early August window is slipping away. Meanwhile, the heads of NASA and ESA spoke today in the Netherlands about the prospects for European astronauts landing on the Moon.

NASA will try again to complete the Wet Dress Rehearsal test of the SLS/Orion “stack” beginning Saturday. The three-day test culminates on Monday when they load the core stage and the upper stage with propellant — liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen — and practice countdowns to as close as 9.3 seconds before launch.

Three tries in April ended in scrubs for unrelated reasons and NASA decided to roll the stack back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs while a contractor, Air Liquide, upgraded its system to provide gaseous nitrogen (GN2) needed to purge propellant lines.

Last week, the stack was rolled back to Launch Complex 39-B to resume the test.

The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission on its way back to Launch Complex 39-B, June 6, 2022. Photo credit: NASA. The rocket, with its orange core stage and one of two white Solid Rocket Boosters visible, and the white Interim Cyrogenic Propulsion Stage and Orion spacecraft on top, are attached to the Mobile Launcher on the left, atop the Crawler-Transporter that takes it between the Vehicle Assembly Buillding and the launch pad about 4 miles away.

The problem that scuttled the third WDR attempt was a hydrogen leak between the rocket and the Mobile Launcher. NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free, who oversees the Artemis effort, told reporters today they think they’ve fixed it, but won’t know until they begin fueling the rocket on Monday.

“We fixed some things we saw around the area where we saw the leak, including going back to some of the procedures we used and the know-how from the shuttle days, which we really benefitted from. Obviously we won’t know the results of that until we actually flow the liquid hydrogen.” — Jim Free

The SLS core stage is derived from the space shuttle’s External Tank and SLS uses the very same Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines that were used on the shuttle. They were designed to be reusable up to 20 times and the 16 left over will be used for SLS. All four on this rocket already flew in space. NASA has decided not to reuse them any more so this flight will be their last.

The first flight of SLS/Orion has been delayed again and again. In 2014, NASA committed  to the first launch in November 2018. That slipped to December 2019-June 2020, then to mid-late 2021 and then to 2022.

The date has slipped month by month this year. Free acknowledged today it will not happen during the July 26-August 10 window. The other launch windows this year are:

  • August 23- September 6, but not August 30, 31 or September 1
  • September 20-October 4, but not September 29
  • October 17-31, but not October 24, 25, 26 or 28
  • November 12-27, but not November 20, 21 or 26
  • December 9-23, but not December 10, 14, 18 or 23

Asked if NASA might decide to proceed with launch even if all the WDR objectives are not met, Free thinks probably not.

“This is the first time we’re flying this vehicle and I think we need to understand everything we can before we commit to launch. I think we’d have to look at the issue and say, hey, is it something that’s understandable, but my first caution is to say we’re gonna understand what every situation is and run it to ground before we would press to commit to a launch.” — Jim Free

Unlike the tests in April, NASA will provide live commentary on Monday of tanking and the practice countdowns. The agency insists that export control considerations prevent it from sharing details of the timeline and actions, but it is attempting to be more transparent.

Tanking is scheduled to begin at 7:00 am ET on Monday with “T-0” at 2:40 pm ET — the opening of a two-hour test window.

Artemis I is an uncrewed test flight around the Moon. A test launch with a crew, Artemis II, around the Moon is expected in 2024, with the first return of astronauts to the lunar surface curently scheduled for 2025 on Artemis III.

During a press conference in the Netherlands with leaders of the European Space Agency today, however, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson cautioned that the 2025 date also could slip.

“I can tell you that the first landing that presently we are targeting for 2025, but as you know space is complicated and there could be slips. But we are targeting for 2025 to have the first woman and the next man to land on the Moon.” — Bill Nelson

Asked when a European might land on the Moon, Nelson emphasized the Artemis program is international and “we look forward to having an ESA astronaut with us on the Moon,” but details on crew composition for flights beyond Artemis III are still to be negotiated. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher added it is his “wish” and “hope” it will be “before the end of this decade.”

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speaking at a June 15, 2022 press conference in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, following an ESA Council meeting. Screengrab.

ESA, Canada and Japan are partners in the Artemis program as they are in the International Space Station. ESA already provides the Service Module for the Orion crew spacecraft. All three are participating in the Gateway space station that will be placed in lunar orbit. A Canadian astronaut will fly on Artemis II. President Biden signed an agreement with Japan last month to send a Japanese astronaut to Gateway and noting a “share ambition” to land a Japanese astronaut on the surface. ESA and NASA agreed in 2020 that three European astronauts will visit Gateway.

Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy were in the Netherlands to participate in an ESA Council meeting to advocate for more NASA-ESA cooperation on earth science and Artemis.  Nelson and Aschbacher signed one agreement on ensuring continuity of earth science observations and sharing data to tackle climate change, and another for NASA to arrange for the launch of ESA’s Lunar Pathfinder, a small communications satellite to support lunar surface operations, on one of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) missions.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.