NASA’s new Moon rocket stands poised inside Kennedy Space Center’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building ahead of its first journey to the launch pad. Comprised of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, and sitting on its mobile launcher, the Artemis I Moon-bound rocket is ready to roll March 17 to Launch Complex 39B for its wet dress rehearsal test targeted to begin on April 1.
The dress rehearsal will demonstrate the team’s ability to load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or super-cold, propellants into the rocket at the launch pad, practice every phase of the launch countdown, and drain propellants to demonstrate safely standing down on a launch attempt. The test will be the culmination of months of assembly and testing for SLS and Orion, as well as preparations by launch control and engineering teams, and set the stage for the first Artemis launch.
The uncrewed Artemis I mission is the first flight of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft together. Future missions will send people to work in lunar orbit and on the Moon’s surface. With the Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon and establish long-term exploration in preparation for missions to Mars. SLS and Orion, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway that will orbit the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.
Live coverage for rollout begins at 5 p.m. EDT and will include live remarks from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and other guests. Coverage will air on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.
The first two of 20 platforms surrounding the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft that allow work on the integrated system inside the building were retracted for roll out to Launch Complex 39B. Teams retracted the platforms, which move like hydraulic kitchen drawers, near the launch abort system on the Orion spacecraft in anticipation of the roll.
Teams are continuing to install instrumentation on the SLS’s twin solid rocket boosters inside the VAB. Thousands of sensors and special instruments will monitor the rocket and spacecraft as they roll out for the first time on March 17 and make the four-mile journey to Launch Complex 39B, arriving on March 18. Engineers will capture as much data as possible on the performance of all the systems that are part of the rocket, spacecraft, ground systems used for rollout, and on the pad for propellant loading and other activities. Once all the rocket and spacecraft systems are inspected, the 322-foot-tall rocket will roll to the launch pad for the wet dress rehearsal test, which is scheduled to occur approximately two weeks after it arrives to 39B.
The last steps remaining before rollout include inspecting each piece of the rocket and spacecraft, including physically entering different components of SLS and, step-by-step, making sure SLS and Orion are ready for the trip to the launch pad. As inspections continue, the Kennedy ground systems team is working to remove equipment and scaffolding away from the rocket and will continue retracting the platforms until the entire rocket is revealed.
Since replacing an engine controller on RS-25 engine number four that is on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage, NASA, and lead engines contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne, have performed a series of tests to ensure the engines and controllers are ready to support the Artemis I mission. All four engine controllers performed as expected during power up, as part of the Artemis I Core Stage engineering tests.
Aerojet Rocketdyne and its manufacturer of the engine flight controller, conducted numerous tests on the faulty engine four controller and determined the cause to be a faulty memory chip. The device is used only during the controller start-up sequence and has no impact on controller operations beyond that point. There is no indication of faulty memory chips on the other three engines, and therefore no related constraints to the wet dress rehearsal or launch.
Kennedy teams are completing remaining SLS pre-flight diagnostic tests and hardware closeouts, including testing the flight termination system on the SLS and installing instrumentation on the twin solid rocket boosters, in advance of rolling the rocket and spacecraft to Launch Pad 39B for the first time next month for a final test before launch. This final test, known as the wet dress rehearsal, will run the launch team through operations to load propellant into the rocket’s tanks and conduct a full launch countdown.
During the test at the launch pad, engineers will be on duty in the Launch Control Center and in other stations where they will work during the Artemis I launch. They will capture as much data as possible on the performance of all the systems that are part of SLS and the Orion spacecraft as well as the Kennedy ground systems. NASA will set a target launch date after a successful wet dress rehearsal test.
On Jan. 11, engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems retracted and extended the Orion spacecraft crew access arm as part of ongoing work leading up to the Artemis I wet dress rehearsal targeted for late February.
The arm rotates from its retracted position and interfaces with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at the Orion crew hatch location to provide entry and exit for the Orion crew module during operations in the Vehicle Assembly Building and at the launch pad. On crewed Artemis missions, the access arm also provides entry and exit for astronauts. The arm retracts from the Orion spacecraft before launch.
The team continues to complete final testing and closeouts of SLS and Orion. Check back for updates on the agency Artemis blog.
Ahead of the Artemis I lunar-bound mission, teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center joined the launch abort tower to the Orion spacecraft on July 23. Working inside the spaceport’s Launch Abort System Facility, engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems and primary contractor, Jacobs, lifted the system above the spacecraft and coupled it with the crew module.
The launch abort system is designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket. Although there will be no crew Artemis I, the launch abort system will collect flight data during the ascent to space and then jettison from the spacecraft.
Next, teams will install four ogives – the protective panels that shield the upper portion of the spacecraft during its entry into orbit. Once final checkouts are complete, Orion will be integrated with the Space Launch System rocket.
The ICPS’s RL 10 engine is housed inside the launch vehicle stage adapter, which will protect the engine during launch. The adapter connects the rocket’s core stage with the ICPS, which was built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance.
The ICPS will fire its RL 10 engine to send the Orion spacecraft toward the Moon. Its European-built service module will provide the power to take the spacecraft on a journey tens of thousands of miles beyond the Moon.
Before attaching the Orion spacecraft to the rocket, teams will conduct a series of tests to assure all the rocket components are properly communicating with each other, the ground systems equipment, and the Launch Control Center.
The ICPS moved to the VAB on June 19, after technicians in the center’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility completed servicing the flight hardware inside.
Launching in 2021, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of missions with astronauts. Under Artemis, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and establish a long-lasting presence on and around the Moon while preparing for human missions to Mars.