NASA has returned the Artemis I rocket to the Kennedy Space Center launch pad for testing later this month, in the hopes of getting back on schedule for a possible August lunar launch. The 5.75 million-pound, 322-foot-tall Space Launch System, Orion capsule, and mobile launcher left Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building early Monday for the 4.4-mile sluggish crawl to Launch Pad 39-B.
The rocket must still go through a full wet dress rehearsal, in which NASA will fill and drain the core and upper stages with 730,000 gallons of super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, as well as simulate a countdown but without firing the engines.
It was first rolled out to the launch pad in March, but three test runs were canceled due to technical challenges, pushing the rocket back to the VAB, but mission managers are hopeful that their problems are now resolved.
“I believe we’ve devised a sound strategy. We’ll see how it pans out when we try again, but I believe we’ve learned a lot and found out a lot of specific things and how you want to do this dance “NASA’s deputy assistant administrator for common exploration systems development, Tom Whitmeyer, agreed.
The test rerun might happen as soon as June 19, according to officials. The rocket would then have to return to the VAB one more time before making its final rollout to the launch pad in preparation for a liftoff that may occur during the first open launch window, which runs through Aug. 10.
Other possible periods are August 23-September 6, September 20-October 4, October 17-31, November 12-27, and December 9-23. There are only a few days in each window when the Earth and moon are in the proper alignment for the planned mission.
The flight is the first of three Artemis missions planned, the first of which is an uncrewed circumnavigation of the moon.
Artemis II will send crews to the moon no later than May 2024, while Artemis III, scheduled for 2025, aims to put people back to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.