NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission could be delayed until the summer.
Artemis 1, which would fly an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the moon using a massive Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, will no longer launch in April, according to agency officials (Feb. 24). May could also be tough to predict.
During a virtual news conference today, Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington, said, “We continue to evaluate the May window, but we’re also recognizing that there’s a lot of work in front of us.”
Some of this work will entail assessing data from the Artemis 1 “wet dress rehearsal,” a critical test that will put the SLS-Orion stack through many of the milestones it will encounter on launch day (liftoff excluded, of course).
The wet dress rehearsal will take place on Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, just like the launch. On March 17, KSC’s cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) will roll out SLS and Orion to the pad at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT), according to agency officials. The massive vehicle will most likely take roughly 12 hours to make the relatively short journey to the pad.
According to agency officials, the SLS-Orion stack will likely spend about a month on Pad 39B, with roughly two weeks on either side of the wet dress rehearsal. After that, the vehicle will return to the VAB for more analysis and processing.
Whitmeyer stated the launch window in May stretches from the 7th to the 21st. If Artemis 1 isn’t ready by then, the next chance will be from June 6 to June 16. After that, the next window runs from June 29 through July 12.
Whitmeyer explained that the windows are limited for a variety of reasons. He noted, among other things, the SLS’s performance restrictions, the necessity to align the launch with Earth’s rotation and the moon’s position, and the fact that the solar-powered Orion isn’t meant to fly through eclipses that last longer than 90 minutes.
Artemis 1 is a significant mission for NASA’s Artemis programme of crewed lunar exploration, thus the agency is taking its time to ensure that everything is in working order before it launches. Artemis 1 will be the first launch of the massive and powerful SLS, as well as Orion’s second mission after reaching Earth orbit in December 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
And the Artemis endgame isn’t the lunar landing. The program’s goal is to create a long-term human presence on and around the moon. The knowledge and abilities obtained will enable NASA’s next big leap: sending astronauts to Mars, which the agency hopes to accomplish in the 2030s.
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