NASA buys more time before first SLS flight for upcoming Artemis I lunar flyby mission

SLS Rocket in the VAB ahead of Artemis I

NASA is on track to conduct its first mission of the new Artemis lunar exploration program sometime in spring 2022. It’s been a long time coming for the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. It appears the historic first flight of SLS will have to wait a little longer, however, as NASA buys more time to complete prep work before liftoff.

The latest development from NASA specifically involves how soon SLS and Orion will conduct a wet dress rehearsal (final major test before launch) with the Mobile Launcher. NASA previously planned to conduct the wet dress rehearsal sometime this month, but the space agency’s updated forecast is no earlier than March.

Today, NASA conducted a call with media, including Space Explored, to provide more context for the delay while also setting expectations for when the first Artemis mission will begin.

Tom Whitmeyer (deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development), Mike Bolger (Exploration Ground Systems program manager), and Mike Sarafin (Artemis I mission manager) explained that there isn’t one single issue at fault for pushing back the final test before the first SLS launch. Instead, the cause was described as a list of remaining work left to do before the uncrewed rocket can safely fly.

The agency also emphasized that it doesn’t want to put a firm target on when the first Artemis I mission will begin. The hesitation is to avoid putting any pressure on engineers who are completing safety tests before liftoff. Once NASA completes the wet dress rehearsal with SLS, we can expect a range of dates that will be targeted for launch.

If NASA sticks the landing on a March wet dress rehearsal, the earliest launch windows that follow span April 8-23 and around May 7-21.

SLS will lift off from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX conducts launches from nearby LC-39A as well as LC-40, but it’s too early to know whether their launch cadence will be affected by NASA’s use of LC-39B.

Extra precautions are required because the launch vehicle has never flown before. Artemis I is a days-long mission to deliver NASA’s Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit and back to Earth safely. The second Artemis mission will be the first crewed lunar flyby mission under the Artemis program. The most historic milestone will be reached during Artemis III, when the first woman and first person of color steps foot on the surface of the Moon.

Learn more about NASA’s Artemis program to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond here.

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