(ORDO NEWS) — On Thursday, NASA officials provided an update on the launch status of the Artemis I lunar rocket, saying the launch is likely to take place in early to mid-June before the rocket returns to the launch pad for a dress rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson suggested last week that August would be the earliest date for a launch attempt, and Jim Free, NASA Assistant Administrator confirmed this.
“As we’ve said, we’ll set an official launch date after we’ve completed wet testing,” Free said. “But based on some of the historical issues that have come up with similar programs over the years, we’re looking at multiple launch periods through August.”
One of the previously announced launch windows will run from July 26 to August 9.
In mid-March, NASA delivered a Space Launch System rocket carrying an Orion spacecraft to KSK launch pad 39-B and attempted to simulate a countdown and fill and drain the core and upper stages with 730,000 gallons of cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
Three previous attempts resulted in three cancellations when NASA ran into a range of problems, mostly on the mobile launcher that houses the Artemis I equipment. When one 3-inch valve failed, NASA could only fix it in the assembly building, where the rocket is now located.
NASA officials said they had already replaced the valve, noting that a small piece of rubber was the cause of the failure, and they are now trying to determine where the rubber came from. The valve itself was fine.
One of the main issues during testing was the flow of nitrogen gas, which is essential for site safety as it helps reduce the risk of fire.
The supplier of this gas, Air Liquide, is using the time to upgrade its production lines so they can properly support the 260,000-tonne, 98-meter-tall rocket. The company expects to finish the job by Monday, and NASA officials said they plan to return to the launch pad shortly thereafter.
Free said moving the potential launch date to later in the summer would give NASA the opportunity to hold two dress rehearsals if needed.
“We are optimistic that we will need another one based on everything we have been able to do so far to fine-tune our refueling procedures, but we will also be realistic and frank with you that it may take more than one attempt to bring procedures in line with our requirements for a smoother launch,” Free said.
Once launched, the rocket will be the most powerful rocket ever launched from Earth, generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust. Artemis I is an uncrewed flight that will take Orion farther into space than any other manned spacecraft has ever flown – a distance of 450,000 kilometers, which is 64,000 kilometers further than the moon.
The mission could last four or six weeks, after which Orion would return to Earth and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
The launch was originally supposed to take place in 2016, but due to numerous delays in the cost and production of the SLS and Orion hardware, it had a domino effect on future Artemis missions.
NASA is currently planning a crewed Artemis II spacecraft that will take humans into orbit around the Moon without landing until May 2024 at the earliest.
The Artemis III mission, which will use a human landing system contracted by SpaceX using a version of its Starship spacecraft, will take two astronauts, including the first woman, to the lunar surface. This mission is now scheduled for no earlier than 2025.
Despite Artemis I’s delay, Nelson said this week that 2025 is still the target for Artemis III.
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