BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – NASA is now targeting the morning of August 29 for the launch of its monstrous Space Launch System rocket and the Artemis I mission to the moon, the agency announced Wednesday, the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“It’s a special day, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing 53 years ago. It’s really great to talk about this test flight to begin our Artemis program to go back to the moon,” Jim Free, NASA associate administrator, said in a briefing with reporters.
The Artemis I mission, slated to send an uncrewed Orion capsule around the moon and back, is set to liftoff from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Teams are confident that their work has positioned them to launch the Artemis I mission in late August. Two other possible launch opportunities were identified as backups, September 2 and September 5.
If NASA is unable to launch the Space Launch System (SLS) during that timeframe, the rocket would have to be rolled back to the agency’s Vehicle Assembly Building again for pre-launch work and would likely target another attempt no earlier than mid-October.
To get the rocket in position for launch, teams at Kennedy Space Center are expected to roll the SLS out to its launch pad on August 18.
If the SLS is able to launch the Artemis I mission on August 29 teams will target a liftoff during a two-hour window which would open at 8:33 a.m. ET.
The mission is designed to be long-duration and last as long as 42 days with a targeted splashdown return of the Orion capsule no earlier than October 10.
NASA officials have spent the last few months putting the rocket through its paces with a series of repeated fueling tests known as “wet dress rehearsals.” In late June, the fourth attempt to complete the test fell short of full duration but was determined to be sufficient enough to consider the testing phase completed.
After arriving back inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center on July 2, the rocket has undergone preparation work, including the replacement of seals and repair of a hydrogen leak.
The Orion capsule sits atop the SLS rocket and will remain uncrewed for the Artemis I test flight aside from three test mannequins, which will collect data on how such missions would affect humans.
In November:NASA says it won’t make goal of putting astronauts on the moon’s surface by 2024
Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, said to reporters, “the milestones and the end the objectives remain the same, regardless of which (launch) opportunity we have.”
Artemis I has three main mission objectives:
- Test the heat shield of the Orion spacecraft during re-entry from lunar orbit
- Demonstrate all operations of the rocket and capsule across all phases of the mission
- Retrieve the Orion spacecraft after splashdown
The Artemis I mission will be the most ambitious test of NASA’s plans to return to the moon since the Orion spacecraft launched on its first test flight aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, called EFT-1, in 2014.
A successful Artemis I mission will poise the agency to fly astronauts around the moon on the next test flight, Artemis II, in 2024 and attempt a possible lunar landing as soon as 2025 with the Artemis III mission.
But, a lot has to go right and stay exactly on schedule between now and then for NASA to achieve those lofty goals beginning with this summer’s launch of the Artemis I mission and SLS rocket.