Teams Advance Preparations for Crewed Artemis Missions

While teams continue to prepare for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt ahead of Artemis I, engineers and technicians are making headway preparing for future Artemis missions with astronauts.

The Orion spacecraft for Artemis II, the first crewed Artemis mission, was powered on for the first time by technicians in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where teams have been meticulously outfitting the crew module with its environmental control and life support (ECLS) systems and subsystems. Powering on Orion allows teams to begin verifying power and data can be routed to every aspect of the capsule. The Artemis II European-built service module also is nearing integration with the crew module at Kennedy – technicians recently conducted proof pressure and leak testing of propulsion and ECLS system connections between the module and the crew module adapter, and engineers are conducting thermal and electrical closeout activities for several systems.

At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, teams have assembled most of the Space Launch System’s (SLS) core stage for Artemis II and moved the final piece of the stage in position to complete the stage later this year. The engine section is one of the most complex parts of the core stage and contains the main propulsion systems that connect the stage to the four RS-25 engines. The engines have been assembled and are ready for integration with the rest of the stage, while the 10 Artemis II solid rocket booster motor segments are stored and ready to be shipped to Kennedy where the rest of the booster assembly is underway. The interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) has already been delivered to Florida and is finishing final processing.

Teams also are preparing for Earth-bound aspects of future crewed missions. Canoo Technologies, Inc., which will provide three environmentally friendly vehicles to transport crews along the nine-mile trip by road to launch pad 39B for their missions, recently visited Kennedy to kick off site-related planning activities. NASA awarded the company a contract earlier this year to supply the vehicles that will be used on launch day for crewed missions to the Moon in time for Artemis II.

As Artemis II progress continues, preparations for Artemis III also are well underway. NASA’s lead SLS booster contractor Northrop Grumman recently completed the 10 motor segments of the twin boosters for the mission, which will see astronauts land on the surface of the Moon. The segments will be kept in storage at Northrop’s Utah facility until needed at Kennedy for rocket stacking and assembly operations. At Michoud, teams also are building core stages for Artemis III and Artemis IV. The Artemis III ICPS construction is well underway, and other rocket stage adapters for both Artemis II and Artemis III are in the final stages of production at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Proof testing to ensure the Artemis III Orion crew module pressure vessel is sealed tightly was successfully completed at Kennedy, and ESA (European Space Agency) and its contractor Airbus are preparing the Artemis III service module for shipment next summer to Kennedy from Bremen, Germany, where it is being manufactured.

CAPSTONE Mission Launch No Longer Targeting June 13

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are no longer targeting June 13 for the launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission to the Moon. Flight software is being updated. A revised schedule will be provided as soon as possible.

Since arriving in New Zealand, CAPSTONE was successfully fueled and integrated with the Lunar Photon upper stage by teams from Rocket Lab, Terran Orbital, and Stellar Exploration. CAPSTONE and Photon have been encapsulated in the payload fairing.

NASA’s Artemis I Moon Rocket Arrives at Launch Pad Ahead of Tanking Test 

At approximately 8:20 a.m. EDT, NASA’s Artemis I Moon rocket arrived at the spaceport’s launch complex 39B after an eight-hour journey ahead of the next wet dress rehearsal attempt.  

Teams will work to secure the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft and mobile launcher to ground support equipment at the launch pad and ensure that the rocket is in a safe configuration in preparation of the upcoming tanking test. NASA is streaming a live view of the rocket and spacecraft at the pad on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube channel. 

NASA’s Artemis I Moon Rocket Departs Vehicle Assembly Building for Next Tanking Test

At approximately 12:10 a.m. EDT on June 6, NASA’s Artemis I Moon rocket began its journey from Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Poised atop its crawler transporter, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will make the 4-mile journey to launch pad 39B to undergo the next wet dress rehearsal test attempt. 

 Live stream views of the departure from VAB and the arrival at the pad will be available on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube channel. 

Artemis I Rocket Readied for Return to Launch Pad for Tanking Test

With all of the work platforms retracted, NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft atop the mobile launcher are in view in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2022. The crawler-transporter, driven by engineers, will carry the Artemis I stack and the mobile launcher to Launch Complex 39B for a wet dress rehearsal test ahead of the Artemis I launch. Photographer: NASA/Glenn Benson
Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center are conducting final preparations for next week’s roll out of the Space Launch System (SLS) Moon rocket and Orion spacecraft. Currently scheduled for Monday, June 6, the rocket will depart the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and head to Launch Pad 39B for the Artemis I wet dress rehearsal.

Teams successfully completed all major planned objectives identified during the previous wet dress rehearsal attempts, as well as some forward work previously planned for after the tanking test. The removal of the final set of platforms is complete and the crawler transporter sits underneath the massive rocket, spacecraft and mobile launcher.

First motion is scheduled for 12:01 a.m. EDT on June 6, and the launch team will closely monitor weather conditions and use the best window to complete the journey. The four-mile trek will take approximately 8-12 hours to arrive at the launch pad, after which the crawler transporter will make its way back down the pad surface and rest outside the pad gate.

Engineers will then connect the rocket and spacecraft to the ground systems and conduct check-outs in preparation for the tanking test, planned for approximately two weeks after the rocket arrives back at the pad. NASA will provide a live stream at 5 p.m. EDT, Friday, June 3 with an exterior view of the VAB ahead of the rollout of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as well as the arrival at launchpad 39B  on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube Channel.

Gateway’s Propulsion System Testing Throttles Up

Image Caption: In April, PPE engineers successfully tested the integration of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s thruster with Maxar’s power procession unit and Xenon Flow Controller. Credit: NASA.
Image Caption: In April, PPE engineers successfully tested the integration of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s thruster with Maxar’s power procession unit and Xenon Flow Controller. Credit: NASA.

The powerhouse of Gateway, NASA’s orbiting outpost around the Moon and a critical piece of infrastructure for Artemis, is in the midst of several electric propulsion system tests.

The Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), being manufactured by Maxar Technologies, provides Gateway with power, high-rate communications, and propulsion for maneuvers around the Moon and to transit between different orbits. The PPE will be combined with the Habitation and Logistic Outpost (HALO) before the integrated spacecraft’s launch, targeted for late 2024 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Together, these elements will serve as the hub for early Gateway crewed operations and various science and technology demonstrations as the full Gateway station is assembled around it in the coming years.

The PPE engineering team is conducting an extensive electric propulsion system test campaign to better understand Gateway’s performance during various mission scenarios. The test allows engineers and mission planners to adjust the system to ensure it meets the requirements for exploration of the Moon during Artemis missions.

Solar electric propulsion is ideal for Gateway because these systems harness the energy of the Sun, convert it to power, and then use that power to produce long-duration, highly efficient thrust, providing mission flexibility and reduced costs. The PPE will use both a 6-kilowatt (kW) and a 12-kW electric propulsion system. Each system contains various components that help the spacecraft thrust efficiently: thruster(s), power processing units (PPU), flow controllers that regulate the flow of gases, like xenon, used for propulsion, etc. Multiple companies, including prime contractor Maxar as well as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Busek, Co. are supplying electric propulsion technologies for PPE.

The developmental versions of the spacecraft’s thrusters and electric propulsion systems are being tested at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. These efforts include the first end-to-end test of the 6-kW system to validate changes and technical interactions between Maxar’s flight-like PPU and Busek’s 6-kW test thruster, as well as validation of Maxar’s larger 12-kW PPU with a prototype 12-kW thruster. The team has also conducted end-to-end tests using Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS)12-kW test thruster. The first phase of testing ended in mid-April and successfully demonstrated operations with Aerojet Rocketdyne’s thruster and Maxar’s PPU and Xenon Flow Controller. NASA plans to continue testing PPE’s propulsion system to reduce spacecraft integration and operational risks.

During the tests, each system proved capable of performing across the full mission power range and parameters. Additionally, during the tests, the engineering team completed various start up and shut down sequences and thruster throttling to simulate operations around the Moon. These tests for both electric propulsion systems were important for finalizing design, requirements, and capabilities.

The milestone propulsion system tests represent progression through the initial development stage, leading to critical design review, and additional spacecraft ground testing later this year. That ground testing will be followed by spacecraft delivery, and eventual integration with HALO prior to launch.

Reliable operation of what will be the highest-power electric propulsion system ever flown is critical for the integrated spacecraft to complete its transit from Earth orbit to lunar orbit. It is vital for Gateway’s operations as a home away from home for astronauts and a lunar microgravity lab supporting Artemis and future missions.