NASA’s Artemis 1-moon rocket will launch its “wet rehearsal” tonight (June 18), and will begin a series of crucial countdown tests for the launch, which will run through Monday (June 20).
If all goes well, the massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion space capsule may be heading for the moon before the end of summer.
The wet rehearsal is scheduled to begin today with a call to ground team stations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 17.00 EDT (2100 GMT). In the course of about 48 hours Artemis 1 the team will charge cryogenic fuel in the first and second stages of the huge rocket. If the crews do not encounter any complications tonight or tomorrow, the charging of fuel is scheduled to begin at. 7:00 EDT (1100 GMT) on Monday.
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This is Artemis 1’s second stack on top of KSC’s historic Launch Complex 39B, which first served as a base for NASA’s Apollo moon mission. Artemis 1 – the debut launch for SLS – will send an unmanned Orion spacecraft on a month-long mission around the moon and back. If successful, NASA plans to allow astronauts to fly aboard the next two Artemis missions, with the space agency watching a lunar landing on Artemis 3 in 2025 or 2026.
The Artemis 1 stack has been standing at Pad 39B since June 6, after spending more than a month inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at KSC. NASA’s first visit to an Artemis 1 wet rehearsal took place in early April this year. For several days, NASA technicians tried, but failed to launch the rocket on three different occasions. Mechanical problems and leaks discovered during cryogenic fuel transfer finally scrubbed April’s wet general rehearsal, and SLS was rreturned to VAB for repair on April 25.
If Monday morning’s fuel charge is scheduled, NASA will aim for a simulated launch countdown at 14:40 EDT (1840 GMT). However, NASA has built in an additional two hours to take into account any additional tests that need to take place while loading fuel. The ground team will charge SLS’s core stage first and then proceed to the upper stage of the launch vehicle, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).
In a conversation with reporters earlier this week, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis’ launch manager with the Exploration Ground Systems Program at KSC, said that the successful refueling of each stage will be a significant achievement. “Assuming we get through these milestones, then we’ll go into our terminal bill,” Blackwell-Thompson said.
Once the rocket has been refilled, the mission operators plan to bring the countdown clock to the T-30 before starting their first stop. Systems will be stopped and recycled before another terminal countdown is initiated, bringing the clock all the way to T-10 seconds before a final countdown is interrupted.
If the testing goes smoothly, SLS and Orion will spend a few more days at the pad for technicians to prepare the stack for their journey back to VAB. The Artemis 1 team will then analyze data from the wet dress, and any maintenance work on the rocket or mobile launch tower will be performed.
With the exception of additional hiccups in the vehicle or ground systems during this wet rehearsal, NASA officials hope to be able to launch Artemis 1 as early as the end of August. But they will not choose a target date until all the data on wet dresses has been completely analyzed and they are comfortable with the rocket being ready to fly for real.
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