NASA announces new Artemis I launch window, which may clash with SpaceX’s Crew-5
NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) will launch no earlier than September 27, following a setback caused by a hydrogen leak during its second launch attempt earlier this month.
NASA had also been considering a September 23 launch date, though that has now been chalked off, according to a NASA blog post.
That means the launch of Artemis I will occur no earlier than September 27, with October 2 currently under review. Once the much-delayed mission finally makes it to orbit, it will send an Orion capsule on an uncrewed test flight to the moon and back, kickstarting NASA's Artemis program, which is designed as a stepping stone for crewed missions to Mars.
NASA gears up for September 27 launch
Recent setbacks show that NASA's new launch date is far from being a guarantee, though every launch attempt essentially acts as a rehearsal, allowing the space agency to iron out the kinks of its massive launch system.
NASA's first Artemis I launch attempt came on August 29, but it was canceled due to an issue with RS-25 engine number 3 during tanking operations. NASA's mission team fixed the faulty temperature sensor that led to that first scrub and readied SLS and Orion for another launch attempt on September 3. For the second launch attempt, a liquid hydrogen leak forced another cancelation.
After disconnecting the ground and rocket-side plates on the interface, called a quick disconnect, for the liquid hydrogen fuel feed line, teams have replaced the seals on the https://t.co/FJy3SYdb5H— NASA's Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) ) September 9, 2022
In their update, NASA officials wrote that the mission team replaced two seals that led to a quick disconnect and the hydrogen leak of the last launch attempt. Before the space agency can go ahead with its next launch attempt, however, it must carry out a fueling test on SLS to demonstrate that the leak fix has worked. NASA had originally intended to carry out that test on September 17, but it has now been pushed back to September 21.
"The updated dates represent careful consideration of multiple logistical topics, including the additional value of having more time to prepare for the cryogenic demonstration test, and subsequently more time to prepare for the launch," NASA officials wrote in their blog post. "The dates also allow managers to ensure teams have enough rest and to replenish supplies of cryogenic propellants."
SLS may roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building
SLS is currently on launchpad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, though it may soon have to go back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to recharge its flight termination system. That system is currently certified for a 25-day period by the U.S. Space Force. NASA has appealed to the U.S. Space Force for an extension. If it's not granted, it will have to roll back to the VAB for testing.
Another potential issue that could arise is the fact that Artemis I's two upcoming launch dates are very close to the launch of SpaceX and NASA's Crew-5 astronaut launch to the International Space Station. That mission will launch from pad 39A, though scheduling conflicts may push the launch of Artemis I back even further.
According to NASA, "teams are working the upcoming commercial crew launch in parallel to the Artemis 1 planning, and both launch schedules will continue to be assessed over the coming weeks". Here's hoping both Artemis I and Crew-5 launch soon and are carried out without a hitch. SpaceX and NASA, of course, will collaborate on Artemis III, which will use SpaceX's fully reusable Starship as a lunar lander to send humans back to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.