After two failed attempts to launch its mega Moon rocket, NASA is planning for a third go at its inaugural Artemis mission. The space agency is now hoping to test the rocket on September 21 and finally launch it to space six days later, with a backup opportunity in early October. That is, if Space Force agrees.
NASA had been aiming to launch the Space Launch System (SLS) on September 23, but the space agency has pushed that back to September 27, and with a backup opportunity available on October 2. The 70-minute launch window on September 28 opens at 1:37 a.m. AEST. The 109-minute launch window for the October 2 launch is still under review, but it opens at 5:52 a.m. AEST.
These targets are all fine and well, but NASA must first get approval from the U.S. Space Force. The agency filed a request for an extension of the current testing requirement from the Eastern Range, a branch of Space Force that oversees rocket launches from Kennedy Space Centre and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Launch permits are issued with time restrictions to ensure the safety of the public, and NASA’s original permit for the SLS launch has expired.
NASA has been providing additional data as requested by the Range, but the space agency is still waiting for the request to be accepted. “The agency is continuing preparations for the cryogenic demonstration test and potential launch opportunities, should the request be approved,” NASA wrote in a blog post on Monday. If NASA fails to get the waiver, it will be forced to return the SLS rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building to inspect and reset batteries associated with the rocket’s launch abort system.
Engineers have been working to fix a hydrogen leak that resulted in a second failed launch attempt on September 3. Over the weekend, the Artemis 1 teams completed their repairs after replacing two seals that resulted in the leak, according to NASA. Later this week, the teams will conduct tests at ambient temperature conditions before attempting the cryogenic tanking demonstration scheduled for September 21. For this test, ground teams will attempt to perform a full tanking of the core stage and the upper stage under the usual ultra-cold conditions.
“The updated dates represent careful consideration of multiple logistical topics, including the additional value of having more time to prepare for the cryogenic demonstration test, and subsequently more time to prepare for the launch,” NASA wrote. “The dates also allow managers to ensure teams have enough rest and to replenish supplies of cryogenic propellants.”
At the same time, NASA is targeting an October 3 launch of its Crew 5 mission to the International Space Station and is working with SpaceX to figure out whether the Artemis 1 launch could have any impact on the commercial crew flight.
It’s certainly busy at NASA, but we’re hoping to see the SLS rocket fly soon. The liftoff will set the stage for the space agency’s Artemis program, which is scheduled to land astronauts on the Moon no earlier than 2025.