The Artemis II crew and teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program successfully completed the first in a series of integrated ground system tests at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for their mission around the Moon.
On Wednesday, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch, along with CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen, practiced the procedures they will undergo on launch day to prepare for their ride to space.
The crew awoke at their crew quarters inside Kennedy’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkouts building before putting on test versions of the Orion crew survival system spacesuits they will wear on launch day. They then departed in NASA’s new Artemis crew transportation fleet to take them to Launch Pad 39B, traversing the nine-mile journey to the pad. Wiseman and Glover headed over in the first electric vehicle as Koch and Hansen followed them in the second.
Upon arrival at the pad, the crew headed onto the mobile launcher and proceeded up the tower to the white room inside the crew access arm. From this area, the astronauts will have access to enter and exit the Orion spacecraft – only for this test, there was no Orion or SLS (Space Launch System) rocket.
“When we walked out that crew access arm, I just had images of all those Apollo launches and shuttle launches that I saw as a kid and it was unreal,” Glover said. “I actually had to stop and just stay in the moment to really let it all sink in.”
Successful completion of this test ensures both the crew and the ground systems teams at Kennedy are prepared and understand the timeline of their events for launch day.
NASA is working with SpaceX to develop its Starship human landing system (HLS) for use during the Artemis III and Artemis IV missions to land American astronauts near the South Pole of the Moon. The Starship HLS will be powered by two variants of the company’s Raptor engines—one optimized to operate in atmospheric pressure at sea-level and one optimized to operate in space, or in a vacuum, where there is no atmosphere.
Last month, SpaceX demonstrated a vacuum-optimized Raptor’s performance through a test that successfully confirmed the engine can be started in the extreme cold conditions resulting from extended time in space. One challenge that differentiates Artemis missions from those in low Earth orbit is that the landers may sit in space without firing for an extended period of time, causing the temperature of the hardware to drop to a level below what they would experience on a much shorter low Earth orbit mission.
One of the first testing milestones SpaceX completed under its Artemis III contract in Nov. 2021 was also an engine test, demonstrating Raptor’s capability to perform a critical phase of landing on the Moon. In a 281-second-long test firing, Raptor demonstrated the powered descent portion of the mission, when the Starship HLS leaves its orbit over the lunar surface and begins its descent to the Moon’s surface to land. The test had two goals: to show Raptor’s ability to change the level of engine power over time, known as its throttle profile, and for the engine to burn the full length of time of the powered descent phase. The successful test provided NASA with early confidence in the company’s engine development.
Testing critical technologies and hardware under simulated and actual flight conditions is key for the development of Artemis Moon landers. These tests provide early and mission-like validation of the systems necessary for carrying astronauts to and from the lunar surface. Data reviews following these tests provide NASA with continually increasing confidence in U.S. industry’s readiness for the mission. SpaceX’s Raptor engines will next be put to the test during the company’s second integrated flight test of Starship and Super Heavy.
Technicians at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have installed the first of four RS-25 engines on the core stage of the agency’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket that will help power NASA’s first crewed Artemis mission to the Moon. During Artemis II, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Koch, and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen will launch on SLS and journey around the Moon inside the Orion spacecraft during an approximately 10-day mission in preparation for future lunar missions.
The Sept. 11 engine installation follows the joining of all five major structures that make up the SLS core stage earlier this spring. NASA, lead RS-25 engines contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne, an L3 Harris Technologies company, and Boeing, the core stage lead contractor, will continue integrating the remaining three engines into the stage and installing the propulsion and electrical systems within the structure.
All four RS-25 engines are located at the base of the core stage within the engine section, which protects the engines from the extreme temperatures during launch and has an aerodynamic boat tail fairing to channel airflow. During launch and flight, the four engines will fire nonstop for over eight minutes, consuming propellant from the core stage’s two massive propellant tanks at a rate of 1,500 gallons (5,678 liters) per second.
Each SLS engine has a different serial number. The serial number for the engine installed Sept. 11 in position two on the core stage is E2059. It along with the engine in position one, E2047, previously flew on space shuttle flights. E2047 is the most veteran engine of the entire set flying on Artemis II with 15 shuttle flights, including STS-98, which delivered the Destiny Laboratory Module to the International Space Station in 2001. The engines installed in positions three and four (E2062 and E2063) are new engines that include previously flown hardware.
NASA is working to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon under Artemis. SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with Orion and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, and commercial human landing systems. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.