NASA is still aiming to launch its Artemis 1 lunar rocket on Wednesday (November 16), but some boxes should be checked first.
Artemis 1, which will send an unmanned Orion capsule into lunar orbit using a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday during a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604). The mission team is confident in its ability to achieve this goal.
“I feel good heading into this attempt on Day 16,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said during a news conference Sunday evening (November 13).
“The team is moving forward as one,” he added. “We just have some work to do.”
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 Moon Mission: Live Updates
more: 10 wild facts about the Artemis 1 lunar mission
One of the focal points of this work will be a thin strip of dam called the RTV that surrounds Orion. Sarafin said the RTV helps smooth out a small gap in the capsule that can cause some unwanted rotation and air heating during flight.
Expedition team members said Hurricane Nicole tore some of that dam on Thursday (November 10) when it crashed into the Florida space coast. (The Artemis 1 stack carries Nicole’s wrath, which weakened into a tropical storm shortly after making landfall, out in the open on KSC’s Pad 39B.)
Sarafin said it’s possible that some storm-torn RTV will vibrate during takeoff, creating a debris hazard for the SLS. The team is still studying the nature and severity of this risk.
“We need to take a little more time to review the logic of our flight on this launch attempt, especially in terms of freeing any remaining transport from RTV and debris,” Sarafin said.
He added that the Artemis 1 team is not too concerned about the “air warming” around Orion due to the loss of some RTV station.
“We have safeguards in place with respect to the material behind RTV,” he said. “That’s just an extra layer in there to create some kind of smooth stream flow.”
The RTV problem is beyond repair on the launch pad, because Orion sits atop the SLS. If the team determines that the dam needs to be replaced, a return to the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building will likely be required.
In addition to the RTV analyses, the team plans to replace an electrical conductor near the base of the SLS associated with some intermittent readings. This can be done on the pillow. It’s not a problem, Sarafin said, because the missile has a large redundancy in its electrical systems.
“We have some well-written and well-thought-out launch compliance standards,” Sarafin said. These standards, he added, “will support aviation despite what this connector may bring. However, we hope to return to full functionality.”
The Artemis 1 team will meet again on Monday (November 14) to discuss these and other issues. They’re planning another briefing that afternoon, so we’ll get an update on the situation and the latest thoughts at that time.
Artemis 1 will be the first-ever flight for the SLS and the second for Orion, which was launched into Earth orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2014.
It will also be the first mission in NASA’s Artemis Lunar Exploration Program, which aims to establish a manned outpost near the Moon’s south pole by the end of 2020.
If all goes according to plan with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will be launched in 2024, sending astronauts on a journey around the Moon. Artemis 3 will put boots on Earth near the south pole of the moon in 2025 or 2026.
Artemis 1 will last about 26 days if it launches on Wednesday. (Different launch dates lead to different mission periods, thanks to orbital dynamics.) Mother Nature must cooperate; There is a 90% chance of good weather on Wednesday. If Artemis 1 cannot fly that day, NASA has backup dates of November 19 and November 25.
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Great Grand Publishing House, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrials. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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