Artemis I Launch Countdown Commences, Briefing Set for 11 a.m. EDT 

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, after being rolled out to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I mission is the first integrated test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and supporting ground systems. Launch of the uncrewed flight test is targeted for no earlier than Aug. 29. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The mission management team for Artemis I met this morning to review the status of operations and have polled “go” to proceed with the launch countdown. The countdown commenced at 10:23 a.m. EDT today, Aug. 27, after the launch team arrived at their stations in the Rocco A. Petrone Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Throughout the day, teams will power up the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s core stage and prepare the four RS-25 engines.

Meteorologists with Space Launch Delta 45 predict a 70% chance of favorable weather for launch on Monday, Aug. 29. The weather guidelines for NASA’s Artemis I flight test identify conditions to launch the agency’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.

Tune in to NASA Television, the NASA app, or the agency’s website at 11 a.m. for a prelaunch media briefing. Participants include:

  • Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, NASA Headquarters
  • Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director, Exploration Ground Systems Program, Kennedy
  • Judd Freiling, ascent and entry flight director, Johnson
  • Rick LaBrode, lead flight director, Johnson
  • Melissa Jones, recovery director, Exploration Ground Systems Program, Kennedy
  • Melody Lovin, weather officer, Space Launch Delta 45
  • Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters

Stay tuned for a briefing at 2:30 p.m. on the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration plans with the following participants:

  • Bill Nelson, NASA administrator
  • Bhavya Lal, NASA associate administrator for technology, policy, and strategy
  • Jim Free, NASA associate administrator, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate
  • Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate
  • Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate
  • Prasun Desai, NASA deputy associate administrator, Space Technology Mission Directorate
  • Randy Bresnik, NASA astronaut

Read more about NASA’s briefings and events coverage. NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are scheduled to lift off from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B during a two-hour launch window that opens at 8:33 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 29.

 

Weather remains 70% Favorable, Teams on Track to Begin Countdown Saturday 

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B as preparations for launch continue, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I flight test is the first integrated test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and supporting ground systems. Launch of the uncrewed flight test is targeted for no earlier than Aug. 29 at 8:33 a.m. ET. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force Space Launch Delta 45 continue to predict a 70% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch of Artemis I on Aug. 29. The primary weather concern for the two-hour launch window remains scattered rain showers. The weather guidelines for NASA’s Artemis I flight test identify conditions to launch the agency’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.  

At Launch Pad 39B, engineers have closed the launch abort system hatch and retracted the crew access arm. Teams continue to plan to begin the countdown for launch at 10:23 a.m. EDT Aug. 27. 

Watch a replay of the briefing on the role of industry in advancing human exploration. NASA will hold a mission overview and status briefing at 11 a.m. Aug. 27, after the mission management team meets to review progress ahead of launch. NASA leaders also will provide an update on the agency’s Moon to Mars progress at 2:30 p.m. Live coverage will air on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website 

Artemis I Flight Readiness Review Begins 

Managers from across NASA have gathered at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to start the Artemis I mission Flight Readiness Review (FRR). Over the next several hours, the FRR will focus on the preparedness of the Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, ground systems at Kennedy, flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and space communications and navigations networks to support the flight, and the certification of flight readiness. 

After the conclusion of the FRR, NASA will hold a televised media briefing to discuss the outcome. Credentialed media may attend in-person and all media may call in to ask questions via phone. Contact the Kennedy newsroom no later than 4 p.m. EDT for connection details. 

Participants in the teleconference are: 

  • Janet Petro, director, Kennedy Space Center   
  • Jim Free, associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters  
  • Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, NASA Headquarters  
  • Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director, Exploration Ground Systems Program, Kennedy  
  • Howard Hu, Orion Program manager, Johnson   
  • Chris Cianciola, Space Launch System Program deputy manager, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center  

The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I is an uncrewed flight test that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate our commitment and capability to return humans to the Moon, explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, and extend beyond. 

NASA’s ShadowCam Launches Aboard Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter

NASA’s ShadowCam is heading to the Moon aboard Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)’s Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) mission. KPLO, also known as Danuri, launched at 7:08 p.m. EDT on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 40 on the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on August 4.

Developed by Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems, ShadowCam is one of five instruments on board KARI’s KPLO spacecraft.

A hypersensitive optical camera, ShadowCam, will collect images of permanently shadowed regions near the Moon’s poles. This will allow ShadowCam to map the reflectance of these regions to search for evidence of ice deposits, observe seasonal changes, and measure the terrain inside the craters. The ShadowCam instrument was designed based on previous imagers like those found on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, but it is several hundred times more light-sensitive to allow for capturing details within the permanently shadowed regions.

The data gathered from ShadowCam and the other KPLO instruments will support future lunar exploration efforts, including Artemis. The high-resolution imagery captured in extremely low-light conditions could help inform landing site selection and exploration planning for future Artemis missions by providing insight into terrain and lighting conditions, and the distribution and accessibility of resources like water ice that are useful for long-duration stays. The data from ShadowCam and the unprecedented views into the permanently shadowed regions could also help scientists learn more about how the Moon formed and evolved and about our solar system.

In addition to ShadowCam, NASA is also contributing communications and navigation support to KPLO and science support to the KPLO team via nine NASA-funded scientists. The Republic of Korea (ROK) signed the Artemis Accords last year and continues to collaborate with NASA on lunar exploration efforts.

In ROK, the orbiter is known as “Danuri” after a public naming contest resulted in a name combining the Korean words for “Moon” (dal) and “enjoy” (nuri).

Over the next 4.5 months, KPLO will use a fuel-saving Korean Ballistic Trajectory 62-mile (100 km) lunar polar orbit, where upon arrival, it will then begin operations on a planned 11-month mission.

Read more about ShadowCam and KPLO.

Final Work Continues to Ready Artemis I Moon Rocket for Launch 

With approximately one month until NASA’s first launch attempt for the Artemis I mission, teams move closer to finishing operations for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA is currently targeting launch for no earlier than Monday, Aug. 29, at 8:33 a.m. EDT during a 2 hour window. A successful launch on Aug. 29 would result in a mission duration of about 42 days, returning Monday, Oct. 10.  Engineers continue to progress through first time operations and are prepared learn and adapt along the way. Teams have planned accordingly with additional launch opportunities on Sept. 2 and Sept. 5 if more than one launch attempt is needed. 

Engineers successfully reconnected the hydrogen tail service mast umbilical where a hydrogen leak was detected during the last wet dress rehearsal test. Teams tested the connection and did not detect any leaks under ambient conditions in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Up next, technicians will perform additional work to return the section to its launch configuration. 

Technicians finished installing the rocket’s flight batteries. As part of operations to prepare the flight termination system, engineers installed and tested the core stage flight command receiver decoders and also tested the solid rocket boosters’ automatic destruct units. Work continues to complete installation of the thermal protection system blankets on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and launch vehicle stage adapter. Following completion of the upper stage closeout work, teams will conduct flight closeout inspections, which includes removing access platforms and installing flight doors replacing the ground support equipment coverings on the core stage.  

Teams also are replacing the inflatable seal between the mobile launcher’s crew access arm and Orion’s launch abort system after it experienced some minor damage due to inclement weather sustained while it was out at launch pad 39B for the wet dress rehearsal tests. The seal prevents anything from the outside environment from getting inside the capsule. Once the seal is replaced and tested, engineers will finish installing remaining payloads inside the crew module before SLS and Orion roll back out to the pad for launch. 

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.

Work Continues to Return Artemis I Moon Rocket Back to Launch Pad for Next Test

Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue to work on the main tasks needed to prepare the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to return to launch pad 39B for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt.

After re-tightening the flange bolts on the tail service mast umbilical lines to address a hydrogen leak identified during the previous wet dress rehearsal, engineers determined the seals on the bolts are no longer relaxing, and the system should remain tightly sealed during propellant loading. As a precaution, teams also moved the location of a heavy cantilevered filter on the tail service mast umbilical, which filters out any contaminants in the gaseous helium – a purge gas – that travels through the drain assist purge line. Engineers did not identify any leaks at its previous location, but relocating the filter will ensure it does not contribute to future leaks. Engineers conducted additional leak checks and have not detected any leaks at ambient air temperature.

Additionally, after replacing the helium check valve on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), engineers found a damaged rubber O-ring seal in the flight side of the quick disconnect – the area that separates the ICPS from the mobile launcher during launch. The O-ring came loose and entered the valve, preventing the valve from sealing correctly. Teams removed the flight and ground side of the quick disconnect system and replaced support hardware that was downstream of the check valve. Work is underway to determine the root cause to prevent any recurrences. Next, teams will re-pressurize the system and test the replaced hardware on the upper stage.

The supplier for gaseous nitrogen completed upgrades to its facility to meet the requirements for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt. Engineers will test the system next week to ensure it’s ready to support tanking operations. During wet dress rehearsal and launch, teams pump gaseous nitrogen into dry structures to protect avionics during propellant loading.

Teams also completed additional work needed, such as inspecting the Orion spacecraft for water damage that may have occurred during a heavy thunderstorm at the spaceport during the initial wet dress rehearsal attempt. Teams determined there was no damage to the systems inside the capsule and continue with inspections and wrapping up other work before retracting the platforms inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to prepare to roll SLS and Orion back to the launch pad. NASA will announce dates for rolling out to the pad and the next wet dress rehearsal attempt once work inside the VAB and testing of the nitrogen system are nearing completion.

Artemis I Rocket, Spacecraft Prepare for Return to Launch Pad to Finish Test

Since returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), ground systems teams have worked to prepare the Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to roll back to Launch Pad 39B in late May to complete the wet dress rehearsal test in the early to mid-June timeframe.

Inside the VAB at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, engineers replaced a faulty helium check valve on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage that was identified after the second wet dress rehearsal attempt. Engineers have inspected the valve and found a small piece of rubber that prevented the valve from sealing correctly. Teams are looking at possible sources of the debris, but did not see any issues with the valve itself, and plan to test the newly installed valve later this week to confirm it is operating as expected.

Engineers also performed tests to address a hydrogen leak on one of two tail service mast umbilicals between the mobile launcher and the rocket. These umbilicals provide liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, as well as electrical connections, from the mobile launcher to the rocket’s core stage during the launch countdown. Teams conducted leak checks on all the joints and tightened several flange bolts, or fasteners that act as a washer to increase the compression strength, that can loosen over time and were the most likely source of the leak. Teams re-tightened the flange bolts on the liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, and core stage intertank umbilicals. Engineers have not detected leaks in subsequent testing at ambient air temperature, and will continue to monitor for leaks when loading the super cold propellants at the launch pad.

The supplier that provides gaseous nitrogen for operations during tanking is upgrading its facility to meet the requirements for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt and the Artemis I launch. Teams are on track to complete the work early next week, followed by testing to ensure the system is ready for tanking. During the test, teams pump gaseous nitrogen into dry structures to protect avionics during propellant loading.

Once all major work is completed, teams will retract the working platforms and prepare the integrated SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft for the second journey to the launch pad. NASA will announce dates for roll to the pad and the next wet dress rehearsal attempt once work is nearing completion inside the VAB.

Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal Update 

NASA is planning to proceed with a modified wet dress rehearsal, primarily focused on tanking the core stage, and minimal propellant operations on the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) with the ground systems at Kennedy. Due to the changes in loading procedures required for the modified test, wet dress rehearsal testing is slated to resume with call to stations on Tuesday, April 12 and tanking on Thursday, April 14. Wet dress rehearsal is an opportunity to refine the countdown procedures and validate critical models and software interfaces. The modified test will enable engineers to achieve the test objectives critical to launch success.  

Engineers have identified a helium check valve that is not functioning as expected, requiring these changes to ensure safety of the flight hardware. Helium is used for several different operations, including purging the engine, or clearing the lines, prior to loading propellants during tanking, as well as draining propellant. A check valve is a type of valve that allows liquid or gas to flow in a particular direction and prevents backflow. The helium check valve is about three inches long and prevents the helium from flowing back out of the rocket. 

Following the modified test, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will return to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where engineers will evaluate the valve and replace if needed. Teams are confident in the ability to replace the valve once back in the VAB.   

NASA will host a teleconference to discuss details on Monday, April 11. Check back at this blog for an update on the countdown timeline prior to the modified wet dress rehearsal testing for the Artemis I mission. NASA is streaming live video of the rocket and spacecraft on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube channel 

Artemis I WDR Update: Go to Proceed for Tanking – Countdown Resumes

The countdown for the wet dress rehearsal has resumed at 10:52 a.m. EDT and clocks have picked back up at T-6 hours, 40 minutes on the clock (L-7 hours, 10 minutes). A new planned T-0 of 6:02 p.m. has been established.

An earlier issue with an outage with the vendor of gaseous nitrogen required for tanking preparations has been resolved. Overnight, teams also resolved the issue with the malfunction of the fans used to provide positive pressure to enclosed areas in the mobile launcher and keep out hazardous gases, and they have a plan for operating the fans to prevent issues from reoccurring. The team was able to successfully bring up and run the primary fan through the night to provide confidence, and has configured the secondary fan to run at 80% capacity to support tanking operations.

At approximately 10 a.m. EDT, the launch director gave the “go” to begin tanking the rocket. Cryogenic loading operations are scheduled to begin with chilling down the liquid oxygen lines for the core stage. Once propellant loading operations begin, liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) will flow into the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage tanks and be topped off and replenished as some of the cryogenic propellant boils off. The team will also conduct leak checks to ensure propellant loading is proceeding as expected.

NASA is streaming live video of the rocket and spacecraft at the launch pad on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube channel. Venting may be visible during tanking operations. NASA is also sharing live updates on the Exploration Ground Systems Twitter account.

The next blog update will be provided when core stage propellant loading is underway.