Space Launch System rolls out for the last time

August 16 at 9:00 pm E.T. at the Kennedy Space Center

Since July 20, when NASA announced the targeted launch date of August 29 for the Artemis I mission launch crews have been working around the clock on both SLS, and the Orion capsule. From completing repairs on the rocket to installing payloads inside the capsule, every detail has been double checked, and Orion was powered on for the final time before the launch weekend.

This evening’s roll out marks the third time the SLS has made the slow trek from the VAB to LC-39B. Once in March, then in June, both times ending with the launch vehicle retracing its steps back to the VAB after attempts of a Wet Dress Rehearsal. Of course this time we are all expecting a much more dramatic exit of the launch pad as the largest rocket NASA has ever built goes not back inside, but up into the atmosphere and pushes Orion towards the Moon.

Photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS

Originally planned to roll out on August 18, things have moved ahead of schedule. “We are in the final stretch,” Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis I launch director said in a briefing of the mission. One final item to complete is now the testing of the rocket’s FTS (flight termination system) in the intertank portion of the core stage. This could complicate things NASA officials said said as the Eastern range require testing fifteen days prior to launch. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager for the Exploration Ground Systems program said this could add some challenges to complete the close out work on schedule. Currently there are already two back up dates scheduled, September 2, and September 5, but the expected thousands of people coming in from across the world would surely hate to see any delays at this point.

Whenever that date is that the Artemis I mission lifts off, it will test both the SLS (Space Launch Vehicle) and the Orion capsule before Artemis II will be allowed to carry astronauts, which at this point is set for no earlier than the year 2024. On this mission, SLS will send the uncrewed Orion capsule to the Moon. The Orion’s service module’s main thruster will fire for a “powered fly by” of the Moon and place it in a distant retrograde orbit, where it will later return to Earth and splash down off the coast of San Diego on October 10 (if launch is on Aug. 29).

It’s been stated by Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager that “we will be go for failures” even if it means sending Orion to the Moon if there are issues with the spacecraft in order to bring it back. Testing the heat shield is the missions primary objective, ensuring that it will work at lunar reentry velocities. Artemis I will be about buying down risk, so that later crewed test flights have lower risk of any potentially deadly incidents occurring.