Artemis I, a historic mission that would fly uncrewed around the moon using the most powerful operational rockets in the world, could take flight this week.
NASA has started fueling the rocket ahead for another attempt. This comes after several weeks of dealing with technical issues and setbacks, including the rocket surviving a Category 1 hurricane. The big show will begin overnight. Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, Florida is scheduled for any time during a two-hour launch window. This window opens at 01:04 a.m. ET Wednesday.
You can watch NASA’s live stream, or, if you are near the launch site, look up from various public beaches or viewing points.
The rocket will launch just days after Hurricane Nicole roared through Florida. It brought winds of up 100 miles an hour (87 knots), to the launch pad area. The space agency stated that the rocket couldn’t be brought back inside the launch pad area after it became apparent that the storm would become a serious threat.
NASA claims that the rocket suffered only minor damage. NASA also reported that a 10-foot strip of caulking was lost on Orion’s spacecraft. Technicians also checked the electrical connection to what is called the tail service mast umbilical. This 33-foot tall structure links to the rocket’s engine area while it sits at the launch pad.
“We still see some funny things on that umbilical,” said Mike Sarafin (Artemis I mission manager). However, engineers have other sources that can provide similar information to the connector.
Sarafin stated that there was “a small chance” that the caulking might come loose during the launch. However, Sarafin stated that it was within acceptable risks.
Sarafin stated that they would do their best and will try again on Wednesday. “That being said, we’re going to do our best and we’ll try on Wednesday,” Sarafin stated.
When the mission launches, viewers can expect a spectacular display from the Space Launch System (or SLS) rocket. It will fire up its four main engines as well as two side boosters, enabling it to take off and fly across the night sky, en route to the cosmos. Orion, a spacecraft, will be able to ride on top of the rocket, and then break off after reaching space. Orion is designed to carry people, but its passengers on this test mission will not be. Orion’s passengers will include some inanimate objects that collect vital data for future crews.
The spacecraft will orbit the moon and travel approximately 1.3 million miles in 25-and-a-half days. Orion will then crash into the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, California on December 11. Recovery teams will be there to help it get to safety.
This mission has two goals: to collect a wealth of data for NASA engineers and to show that Orion and the SLS rockets perform as expected before astronauts can board.
Artemis I is only the first of many difficult missions NASA will undertake as it works towards its goal to establish a permanent lunar outpost. Artemis II will be on a similar track to Artemis I, but with astronauts. Artemis III is scheduled for later in the decade and will land a woman or a person of color on Earth’s surface. The mission will focus on the moon’s south pole where permanently shadowed areas may contain ice or other resources that could support astronauts on long moonwalks.
What to look out for
Although weather is always unpredictable when it comes time to launch from Florida, forecasters say conditions will be favorable for at least 80% of the day.
NASA gave the go-ahead to fuel the rocket on Tuesday. This is one of the most critical steps in the build-up to takeoff.
Previous problems with super-chilled liquid hydrogen, which was a major problem in the Artemis launch attempts (and later the decision to abandon those efforts), have caused the mission team to run into difficulties. NASA completed a fueling test after the September launch attempt. Although the test did not go as planned, NASA deemed it a success. It then began planning for its next launch attempt.
NASA began the long fueling process Tuesday afternoon. It used a “kinder and gentler” method of loading fuel to try to avoid any leaks.
NASA will move forward with liftoff if the orange rocket takes off shortly after it lands on the pad.
About a minute after liftoff, the rocket will experience Max Q. This is an aerospace term that
essentially means that the rocket is experiencing the maximum stress it can while on its journey to orbit. After that, the rocket will start intentionally shedding its parts. These will be released from Orion’s spacecraft into the ocean until only one engine remains attached to the capsule.
The rocket engine will need to perform some critical burns to guide Orion. This includes a brief firing approximately 50 minutes after launch and a longer 20-minute-long fire about half an hour later. The capsule will be separated from the large rocket engine after two hours and will rely on the small onboard thrusters for steering the ship through the rest of the journey.
Although this is a test mission NASA and the corporate contractors who built the $4.1 billion SLS have a lot riding.
It has taken years to develop and was billions of dollars more costly than expected. There have been strong detractors and criticisms about its rising costs, which have made it much more expensive than originally projected. NASA wants to show that the design it created will work, even though there may be some issues.