NASA's new Artemis 1 launch schedule reveals it can attempt 3 launches per week

Through mid-2023.
Brad Bergan
The Artemis SLS vehicle at a launch pad (left), and an image of the moon (right).1, 2

NASA's aiming for the moon again.

But weeks must pass before the Artemis 1 rocket and spacecraft return to the launch pad, while additional work is performed. However, NASA just released the entire docket for launch windows available to the newest lunar transport vehicle, and it extends until mid-2023.

Crucially, the Artemis 1 rocket — which requires refueling for every launch attempt — can only shoot for a lift-off three times per week, at maximum.

Here's why.

An 'operational constraint' of NASA's Kennedy Space Center

Best-case scenario, Artemis 1's moon rocket could launch for its maiden flight around the moon as soon as July 26. But, considering how many delays the project to return humans to the moon has seen so far, NASA isn't treating it like an exception — which is why it plotted dozens of launch windows from July to December 22 of this year, with additional opportunities through June of 2023, according to the new docket.

Of course, these dates could be updated, should the Space Launch System (SLS) fail to complete its wet "dress rehearsal", which is when fueling operations are simulated, and we finally learn whether issues discovered on April 26 don't resurface. If they do, the SLS might be forced to return to Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). And we don't want that.

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"In addition to the launch opportunities based on orbital mechanics and performance requirements, there also is an operational constraint driven by infrastructure at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida," wrote NASA in its blog post upon the launch windows' release.

NASA's SLS can only attempt three launches weekly

"Because of their size, the sphere-shaped tanks used to store cryogenic propellant at the launch pad can only supply a limited number of launch attempts depending on the type of propellant," continued NASA. 

In other words, at most three shots at launching are available for the STS, in light of its core stage tanking process. The fuel, which includes both liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and is loaded into the STS' core stage and upper stage on the day of launch, NASA's engineers have to wait 48 hours between the first and second attempt. A third will take another 72 hours, "due to the need to resupply the cryogenic storage sphere with more propellant from nearby sources," wrote NASA.

No worries! Artemis will launch, eventually

The full list of launch windows open for the Artemis 1 will pave the way for crewed missions to the moon, sometime closer to the end of the 2020s. Keep in mind that these dates could change from a wide variety of factors.

The first launch window is from July 26 to August 10, where 13 attempts may be tried any day except August 1, 2, and 6. The next window stretches from August 23 to September 6, involving 12 potential launches, except for August 30 and 31, in addition to September 1. Then there's Sept. 20 through Oct. 4, which excludes only Sept. 29.

There are many more launch windows, with the final one including 13 possible launch dates between June 1 and June 6, in addition to June 20, and the days from June 24 to June 30 (except for June 5, the 7 through the 19, and 21, 22, and 23). But suffice to say that Artemis will launch, eventually — no matter how many setbacks it suffers.

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