On the 53rd anniversary of humans first setting foot on the Moon, NASA has preliminarily selected Aug. 29, 2022, for the Artemis 1 test flight of the Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft.
While Artemis 1 won’t have any people aboard, it will be a shakedown flight to prove out all the systems needed for the Artemis 2 mission, which will have humans aboard. Artemis 2 is slated for no earlier than 2024.
“This is our first flight and this is a campaign that we’re building,” said Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for the Exploration System Development Mission Directorate, during a July 20 media teleconference. “This is a series of missions to achieve objectives that we’re laying out as an agency to do near-term and long-term exploration both on the Moon and beyond.”
NASA has also penciled in two additional dates for Artemis 1 during this particular launch window — Sept. 2 and Sept. 5.
“Those are dates, just like other missions hold. So, it’s not an agency commitment,” Free said. “We’ll make the agency commitment at the flight readiness review just a little over a week before launch.”
If those dates don’t hold, the agency will have to wait until the next launch window, which runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.
This all comes after NASA completed the wet dress rehearsal campaign on the 321-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) Space Launch system rocket on June 20 at Launch Complex 39B in Florida, which saw the vehicle loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen during a simulated countdown all the way to T-minus 29 seconds.
It was rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building July 2 for minor repairs and to be readied for launch. However, a number of things still need to happen before SLS is ready for launch.
Cliff Lanham, the senior vehicle operations manager for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, said quick disconnect seals were replaced on the core stage, which were causing a hydrogen leak. Technicians are currently in the process of getting ready to test those seals.
Additionally, it was found that one of the collets that holds an umbilical plate to the rocket had some loose fasteners that had to be repaired. Lanham said that work is also completed and teams are about to begin the process of testing those interfaces.
Lanham said technicians are also working on various final closeout items throughout the rocket and spacecraft, including the installation of batteries. He said the team is expecting to install the core stage’s batteries next week.
Moreover, the vehicle’s flight termination system (which would only be used during an in-flight anomaly) needs to be armed, which can only be done inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. Once armed, there is only a small window where it’s certified before having to be replaced.
According to NASA, the SLS rocket needs to be rolling to Launch Complex 39B by Aug. 18 in order to be ready in time for the Aug. 29 date.
Aug. 29 has a two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m. EDT (12:33 UTC). Sept. 2 has a two-hour window that opens at 12:48 p.m. EDT (16:48 UTC). Finally, Sept. 5 has a 90-minute window that opens at 5:12 p.m. EDT (21:12 UTC).
All three of these target dates would see Orion sent into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon where it would orbit one-and-a-half times before returning to Earth. This is known as the long mission option.
A short mission option is available on some launch dates in the future, which would see Orion circle the Moon for only half of the distant retrograde orbit.
In both cases, entering orbit would require two burns by Orion — an outbound powered flyby of the Moon and a distant retrograde orbit insertion burn. Leaving the Moon would require similar burns — a distant retrograde orbit departure burn and a return powered flyby of the Moon.
If Artemis 1 launches Aug. 29, the Orion crew module is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 10 — a 42-day mission duration.
A Sept. 2 launch would see a splashdown on Oct. 11 while a Sept. 5 launch would see a splashdown on Oct. 17 — a 39-day and 42-day mission duration, respectively.
Should the agency miss these dates, there are 15 opportunities during the late-September window. Sept. 19-26 would allow a short duration mission. Sept. 27-28 would allow for a long duration mission.
There is no launch availability on Sept. 29. However, Sept. 30 through Oct. 4 would all allow for a long duration mission.
NASA said it can get all of its objectives for Artemis 1 accomplished with either mission duration profile.
Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, said the first and primary objective for Artemis 1 is the verification of the Orion crew module’s heat shield, which has to survive the high speed and heat of reentry from lunar return velocities — some 24,500 miles (39,500 kilometers) per hour with peak temperatures reaching half that of the surface of the Sun.
Sarafin said the second objectives involve demonstrating operations in all flight modes. This includes the rocket and spacecraft, but also with the facilities on the ground. Artemis 1 intends to also show that Orion can tolerate the deep space environment.
A third set of objectives include actually retrieving the crew module after splashdown and demonstrating recovery operations. Returning the module to the Kennedy Space Center will also allow for more data to be gathered, which would inform future missions.
Returning the capsule also allows for the reuse of some components on future flights, such as high-precision avionics.
Sarafin said a fourth group of objectives includes demonstrating an optical navigation system on Orion and deploying various CubeSats. He also said the agency plans to collect and share imagery with the public throughout the flight.
“Launch day is going to be here before we know it,” Sarafin said. “While we continue to work through each task step by step, today’s anniversary is a good reminder of what a privilege it is to be a part of a mission like this. It’s not just the Artemis 1 mission, but it’s a bigger picture of returning to the Moon and preparing to go to Mars.”
Video courtesy of Orbital Velocity
Video courtesy of NASA
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