With the engineers completing final checks on the Space Launch System, Nasa is ready to conduct the maiden test mission — Artemis-I. The spacecraft is being targeted to launch on August 29 in a two-hour window that opens up on the day to begin a journey that will return humans to the Moon.
The American space agency said that the two-hour launch window opens at 8:33 a.m. EDT and if, for any reason, the launch is canceled on that day, the backup dates are September 2 and 5. The spacecraft, currently in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), will lift off from Cape Canaveral.
A successful launch will push the spacecraft on a 42-day mission to the Moon and back home with the Orion crew module splashdown scheduled for October 10.
“Final closeout inspections are complete on those sections and they are ready for flight. Engineers will test the flight termination system elements in the intertank of the core stage and the forward skirts of the solid rocket boosters before SLS rolls out to the pad for launch,” Nasa has said in an update.
During its 42-day mission in space, the rocket will push the Orion spacecraft towards the Moon, going beyond and returning. The mission will not carry humans and is being launched to verify all the systems and establish a safe mode of transportation to the lunar orbit with humans in the future.
According to the European Space Agency, which is providing the crew service module that will one-day house astronauts during the journey, in the current mission, the spacecraft will enter a low-Earth orbit before the rocket’s upper stage fires to take it into a translunar orbit.
“The spacecraft will perform a flyby of the Moon, using lunar gravity to gain speed and propel itself 70 000 km beyond the Moon, almost half a million km from Earth further than any human has ever travelled. On its return journey, Orion will do another flyby of the Moon before heading back to Earth,” ESA has said.
Nasa had been working on faults detected during the key wet dress rehearsals of the SLS and engineers have assured that the issues have been fixed.
At 322 feet (98 meters), the rocket and Orion capsule are taller than the Statue of Liberty. If Orion’s trip to the moon and back goes well, astronauts could climb aboard in 2023 for a lunar loop-around and actually land in 2025. Astronauts last explored the moon in 1972.