The first launch of NASA’s new moonshot program, Artemis, is expected for mid- to late February.
During a news teleconference Friday for Artemis I, flight managers offered updates about the status of the mission—an uncrewed lunar test flight of the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. The more than three-week journey calls for Artemis I to orbit the moon and return to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific. The launch window, mission planners said, is from February 12 to 27, 2022.
Project leaders plan to perform postflight analysis on mission data to help NASA prepare to send the first astronauts to the moon since 1972, including the first woman and person of color to walk on the lunar surface.
Excitement around Artemis I increased this past week after engineers stacked the Orion spacecraft atop the SLS in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center for the first time.
The stacking of the rocket and spacecraft culminated many months of development and testing of the SLS and Orion.
“I’m very proud of the patience of everybody,” said Tom Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development.
“Because the first time you fly a launch vehicle you have to go through these things and make sure you fully characterize and understand the launch vehicle before you commit the crew.”
Artemis I’s full, integrated stack stands 322 feet high, program managers said, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty.
In mid-November, engineers are expected to power up the rocket’s core stage and second stage. During the first week of December, NASA will put Artemis I through an end-to-end communications systems test followed by a countdown sequence test.
By late this year, the rocket is scheduled to be moved from the VAB to launch pad 39B, where it will undergo a wet dress rehearsal before it is rolled back to the VAB to remove testing equipment.
Final roll out of Artemis I to the pad for launch is expected in February, mission planners said.
Artemis II, the program’s first crewed launch, is expected sometime in the second half of 2023. That mission will attempt to fly around the moon and return to Earth. NASA’s return to human exploration of the lunar surface will take place during the third Artemis mission, set for 2024.