NASA’s Artemis I launch dates this month and the prior failed attempts

Brian Cox outlines goals of NASA's Artemis 1 mission launch

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NASA is set to roll its Artemis I Space Launch System back to its launch pad this Friday with Monday, November 14 pencilled in as the next official attempt date. The space agency will target a 69-minute launch window on this day, but has two other backup dates on its schedule just in case it fails to launch once again. The massive Moon rocket has been undergoing checks and maintenance in its Vehicle Assembly Building, where it took shelter during Hurricane Ian in late September. Should November 14’s attempt be scuppered for any reason, a pair of two-hour backup windows have also been pencilled in for the same week — one on November 16 and the other on November 19. 

In a twist on the previous launch attempts, all three new target windows will be at night — starting at 12.07am local time (5.07am GMT) on November 14, 1.04am CST (06.04am GMT) on November 16 and 1.45am (6.45am GMT) on November 19.

According to the space agency, a successful blast-off on November 14 would lead to a 25-and-a-half day mission around the Moon, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 9. A NASA spokesperson said: “Teams are on track to roll the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B no earlier than Friday, November 4, with first motion targeted for 12:01am EDT [04:01am GMT].

“Minor repairs identified through detailed inspections are mostly completed. Preparations are underway to ready the mobile launcher and Vehicle Assembly Building for rollout by configuring the mobile launcher arms and umbilicals and continuing to retract the access platforms surrounding SLS and Orion as work is completed.

“Testing of the reaction control system on the twin solid rocket booters, as well as the installation of the flight batteries, is complete and those components are ready for flight. Engineers also have replaced the batteries on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, which was powered up for a series of tests to ensure the stage is functioning properly.”

This stage is a single-engine liquid hydrogen and oxygen system that will provide in-space propulsion for the Orion capsule after the SLS’s core stage and solid fuel boosters are jettisoned. NASA continued: “Teams are continuing to work in the intertank area of the core stage and upper section of the boosters to replace batteries.

“Flight termination system testing will start next week on the intertank and booster and once complete, those elements will be ready for launch. Charging of the secondary payloads in the Orion stage adapter is complete.

“Teams recharged, replaced and reinstalled several of the radiation instruments and the crew seat accelerometer inside Orion ahead of the crew module closure for roll [to the launch pad].”

Further preparation will be necessary when the 322-feet-tall, 5.75million lbs SLS arrives back at its launch pad. These will include refreshing the biological specimens being carried on board the rocket — including algae, fungi, seeds and yeast — and ensuring all of the rocket’s hatches are properly closed prior to launch.

Friday’s movement of the SLS will mark the fourth outward journey that the giant rocket has made atop its crawler–transporter from the vehicle assembly building — having made the trip twice in the spring for two so-called “wet dress rehearsals”, and then again for the recent but aborted launch attempts.

Hurricane Ian accounted for the latest in the series of unfortunate delays experienced by the Artemis I mission, with NASA having already made two attempts at getting the SLS to lift-off — the first on August 29 and the second on September 3.

The initial launch attempt was scrubbed after it appeared one of the rocket’s four main engines was too hot during engine bleed tests.

This issue, however, was later traced to a misleading reading from a “bad sensor”. A persistent leak in the liquid hydrogen fuel line, meanwhile, brought the second go to a halt, despite engineers trying three times to troubleshoot the problem.

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Both of these issues were reexamined in mid-September when NASA undertook a “cryogenic demonstration test”, which saw a practice tanking of the SLS’s core and interim stages with more than 730.000 gallons of liquid hydrogen fuel.

The space agency reported that “after encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.”

These activities included revisiting the kick-start bleed test — in which a small amount of liquid hydrogen fuel is used to cool down the four RS-25 engines at the base of the rocket’s core stage to 423F (217C) — that threw up problems during the first launch attempt.

The purpose of this was to ensure that the engines are not unduly stressed when the supercool fuel is channelled into them properly at the time of launch.

Following the cryogenic demonstration test, NASA reported “all objectives [were] met” — leading to optimism that the SLS will be able to successfully lift-off on the next attempt.

However, plans to deliver this launch in early October were thwarted by the landfall in Florida of the devastating Hurricane Ian.

The storm brought with it wind speeds well in excess of the 85 miles per hour threshold the SLS is capable of safely withstanding on its pad.

In Ian’s wake, NASA engineers reported that the rocket, sheltered in its assembly building — as well as the rest of the Artemis launch systems — did not appear to have been damaged by the extreme weather conditions.

Nevertheless, the space agency elected to eschew launch opportunities in late October in favour of those this month.

As a NASA spokesperson explained, this focus allowed “time for employees at Kennedy to address the needs of their families and homes after the storm and for teams to identify additional checkouts needed before returning to the pad for launch.”

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