NASA reveals Artemis I launch dates through first half of 2023

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April.

Trevor Mahlman

NASA has released a list of potential launch dates for the Artemis I mission (see PDF), starting as early as July 26 and running through June next year. During this period, due to various constraints, the space agency previously identified 158 launch opportunities.

The Artemis I mission will include the first launch of NASA’s large Space Launch System rocket and the second orbital flight of its Orion spacecraft. Depending on when the uncrewed demonstration mission launches, it could last anywhere from 26 to 42 days as Orion flies in a deep retrograde orbit around the Moon.

In its press release, NASA helpfully explains the various constraints behind these dates, including orbital mechanics. For example, NASA states: “The resulting trajectory for any given day must ensure that Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time so that the solar generator wings can receive and convert sunlight in electricity and that the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature.Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into prolonged eclipses during the flight.

These launch windows are subject to slight changes as mission planning is refined. However, the inclusion of dates through the first half of 2023 raises an obvious question: does NASA think the Artemis I mission – which was originally scheduled to launch in 2016 – could be delayed once again and slip into next year ?

“The date range is not meant to convey anything about the likelihood of a 2022 or 2023 launch,” Kathryn Hambleton, a NASA spokeswoman, told Ars. “Any launch dates more than about two months away are preliminary. It’s normal for the team to have a preliminary outlook several months in advance. We’ll set a more specific target after we’ve completed repeat wetsuit testing. “

If all goes well with final preparations before the Artemis I mission, it seems possible that NASA could launch in late August. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson appeared to confirm this during a US House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday when he said, “We’re going to launch it in August.”

However, an August launch remains speculative, with September or later this year being the more likely bet, given how much work NASA still has to do.

During a May 6 media call, NASA human exploration chief Jim Free said the space agency wants to deploy the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft to the launch pad in late May. and would target “early or mid” June for a rehearsal event in wet gear. During this test, the rocket will be fully fueled and brought up within 10 seconds of engine ignition to resolve pre-launch issues with the vehicle and its ground systems.

NASA has already attempted to complete this “wet dress” repeat three times this spring. Finally, engineers decided to take the vehicle back to a Kennedy Space Center hangar for modifications and repairs after the third attempt failed. So far, in these three tests, NASA has managed to load about half of the rocket’s liquid oxygen and only a small fraction of the liquid hydrogen.

This week, reported that the space agency and its contractors are continuing to work through a number of issues encountered in the previous three attempts, in particular a leak in the purge line leading to the upper stage of the rocket, known as the interim cryogenic propulsion stage. . A NASA official said design changes would likely be needed.

Due to the ongoing nature of this work, it no longer seems likely that the Big Rocket will roll out of the Vehicle Assembly Building this month, which would likely push the start of the next wetsuit attempt to late June to the end of June. earlier. After a successful conclusion of this test, the rocket will still need to be returned to the assembly building to arm the flight termination system before finally being returned to the launch site for a take-off attempt.

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