Critical test of NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mega-rocket kicks off today

NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission is about to embark on a critical pre-launch test.

Space agency plans to begin ‘wetsuit rehearsal’ for Artemis 1 this afternoon (April 1) at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The three-day test will take the Artemis 1 stack – one Space Launch System (SLS) topped with an Orion crew capsule – through many of its pre-launch procedures, to ensure that its various systems perform as intended. Essentially, the test will see the mission team walk through (most) the steps of an actual launch, minus the launch itself.

The wet dress will officially begin today at 5:00 p.m. EDT (21:00 GMT) with a “call to stations.”

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The call to stations “is an important step, because it’s when we call our teams, letting them know that the wetsuit repeat test is officially underway,” KSC’s Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, director of launch ‘Artemis for NASA Exploration. Ground Systems program, said at a press conference Tuesday, March 29.

Calling stations also starts the 45-hour countdown for the test. Over the next 24 hours following the call, members of the Artemis 1 team will tick a number of boxes, from filling the water tanks of the launch pad’s soundproofing system to powering up the launch pad. ‘Orion and the SLS central stage.

But most of the action will take place on Sunday (April 3). Among other tasks that day, the team will pump more than 700,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of propellant into the SLS tanks.

At approximately 2:25 p.m. EDT (6:25 p.m. GMT) on Sunday, the launch director will interview team members, asking if they are ready to enter the endpoint count (for testing purposes, not to actually launch the rocket), according to a NASA wet dress rehearsal explainer.

This count will continue until 33 seconds before the “launch”, when it is stopped. The team will then return to 10 minutes before T-0 and run through the stages again, this time stopping less than 10 seconds before takeoff.

Most likely, you won’t be able to follow these steps closely in real time, as NASA does not plan to provide live commentary or broadcast communications from the Artemis 1 team. However, you can follow updates by line that the agency plans to publish on its Artemis Blog and on Twitter. NASA also plans to release video of the Artemis 1 stack on the launch pad during the test here.

The results of the wet dress rehearsal will inform NASA’s future preparations for Artemis 1, which will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long mission around the moon. The team has yet to set a target date for Artemis 1, which is expected to lift off in June at the earliest.

Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.

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