Originally planned for the end of the year, the Artemis 1 mission was delayed by several months. Through this program, the United States will send humans back to the moon, including the first woman.
After years of waiting, the calendar is becoming clearer: NASA announced Friday that it aims to take off its Artemis 1 mission in February, initially planned before the end of the year. She would sign off on the real launch of Project Artemis, which was supposed to allow the United States to send humans back to the moon, including the first woman.
The first test flight will take place without astronauts. NASA’s new giant rocket, called SLS, must propel the Orion capsule to the moon before returning to Earth.
“The February launch window opens on the 12th, and our last chance for February is the 27th,” mission manager Mike Sarafin said in a news release.
Additional launch windows are planned for March (12-27) and April (8-23) if necessary, especially if the machines are not ready in time.
Rehearsal in January
The rocket was assembled on Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is almost 100 meters high. “This is a very important step. It shows that we are in the final stages of our mission”, commented Mike Sarafin.
In early January, the launcher will be brought to the launch pad for rehearsal. The vehicle’s gas tank will be filled with fuel and a fake countdown will take place. After this test, the exact take-off date will be announced.
If it happened in the first half of the February launch window, the mission would last about six weeks. But if it’s the second half of the year, the ship will only be in space for about four weeks, Mike Sarafin said.
In March, SLS successfully conducted a static test (called “Heat”) of its engine in Mississippi before shipping the spacecraft to Florida.
Orion flew into space for the first time in 2014, when it was launched on a Delta IV rocket. She has completed two trips to Earth, notably testing her heat shield during re-entry.
Selfie with the moon
But this time, “when we come back from the moon, it’s going to be faster and hotter,” Mike Sarafin said.
He detailed that Artemis 1 had several purposes: to demonstrate Orion’s ability to return from the moon, to operate in deep space “much cooler than low-Earth orbit,” and to successfully recover the spacecraft.
“Bonus” goals are also planned, such as studying radiation for the next astronaut who will travel this far, or even… taking a selfie of the capsule with the moon in the background.
NASA officials would not say Friday whether they would revise the Artemis 2 mission schedule. Currently, a second mission must take place in 2023, this time including astronauts. But they won’t land.
It wasn’t until Artemis 3 that astronauts set foot on lunar soil again. The planned date was originally 2024, and now it seems almost impossible to meet that deadline.