The Artemis I rocket and spacecraft stand again at Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as the mission’s launch and support teams lock down requirements ahead of a liftoff targeted for Aug. 29. Poised atop a baseball-field size crawler-transporter, the rocket was moved steadily into place during the course of about 10 hours starting Tuesday evening. The vehicle was locked in place during the early hours of Wednesday, Aug. 17.
With several prelaunch test campaigns completed including a test fueling and countdown rehearsal in June, Artemis I is now pointed squarely at the Moon. At the top of the towering, 32-story rocket sits NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will fly without any astronauts on this first integrated flight test. The mission is slated to last 42 days and see Orion cover some 1.3 million miles during a series of orbits around the Moon that will include an orbit that will reach almost 40,000 miles beyond the Moon.
Beneath Orion stands the powerhouse Space Launch System (SLS) dominated by the dark orange, 212-foot-tall core stage from Boeing, the upper stage and two white solid-fueled boosters. The SLS will produce almost 9 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, followed by a steady stream of power to push the Orion into Earth orbit. After the core stage separates, it will be the job of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS) to push Orion onto a precise path to lunar orbit. Orion will return to Earth 42 days later.
“We’ve taken it to the launch pad before but it’s different this time because we’ve made our final preparations for launch and we’ve put a couple of final access doors in place,” said Suba Iyer, Boeing’s integration manager for the Space Launch System.
This will be the first time the SLS tastes the rigors of actual spaceflight though engineers have put the core stage and its systems through a thorough series of robust tests. The most strenuous tests came in 2021, when the core stage was anchored to a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for a series of evaluations called Green Run. That series was capped with a full-duration burning of the core stage’s four liquid-fueled engines. Since then, the core stage was carried by barge to the NASA launch site in Florida and stacked.
During earlier testing at the launch site, the rocket’s core and upper stages were loaded with cryogenic propellants while the launch teams rehearsed the same countdown processes they will use on launch day itself. If a launch does not take place on Aug. 29, NASA also has reserved Sept. 2 and 5 for further tries. This will be the first test flight of a human-rated NASA spacecraft designed for lunar missions since Apollo.