NASA announced On Monday a test readiness review for its Artemis I mission was completed, paving the way for the deployment of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the first tests before it begins its journey to the Moon as part of the next Artemis mission.
On Thursday, the superheavy launcher will travel to Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of a dress rehearsal scheduled for April.
“Every generation has its moments, and this will be an incredible moment for that generation,” Tom Whitmeyer, associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, NASA Washington Headquarters, said at a press conference Monday.
The deployment of the rocket is an essential element to prepare the vehicle for takeoff.
For more than a year, the Orion spacecraft has been stacked on top of the SLS rocket inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). On Thursday, a 6.6 million pound robot will go inside the VAB and slide under the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft placed on the mobile launcher.
The robot will travel at a conservative speed of 1 mile per hour to Launch Complex 39B. Once it is deployed to the pad, NASA engineers will perform integrated testing, as well as testing the deployment ground equipment and other pad activities.
If all goes well, NASA has already scheduled a dress rehearsal for April 1.
What is Artemis’ wet dress repeat?
After the SLS rocket deploys, NASA engineers will have two weeks to prepare for a wet dress rehearsal. The wet dress rehearsal is a test of the integrated stack, control teams, ML-1 and ground support equipment (GSE) associated with the 39B.
The 322-foot rocket will be refueled at pad 39B and perform a simulated countdown to prepare for launch day. It will then spend about a month on the pad for further testing and then return to VAB for final work.
“Of course, we’ll be waiting to see what comes out of the wet dress – we might learn something new,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, NASA Headquarters, said at the press conference. “And then we’ll be in a good position as an agency to set a launch date.”
After the dress rehearsal, NASA will announce the exact launch dates for Artemis I. Artemis I is the first step in getting humans back to the Moon, though it will be an uncrewed mission to the Moon and back .
Artemis Mission Objectives
It’s been more than 50 years since humans landed on the Moon, and NASA is planning a big return to Earth’s natural satellite. The cogs are already in motion for the next Artemis mission, slated for first launch this summer.
But this time, when humans return to the moon, the plan is to build a permanent base on the lunar surface that can take astronauts to Mars and beyond.
Ultimately, the Artemis program wants to establish a sustainable presence of astronauts on the Moon, by sending a crew to the lunar surface once a year.
To do this, NASA plans to build a lunar base on the Moon where astronauts can stay longer. From there, the presence of astronauts on the Moon will not only allow them to conduct long-term scientific research, but it could also allow humans to travel to other destinations like Mars.
Unlike Apollo, the Artemis mission targets the south pole of the Moon.
The South Pole is an unexplored region of the Moon. Due to its remote nature, parts of it experience near total darkness. NASA’s LCROSS mission intentionally crashed in this region in 2009, confirming the presence of water ice there. The India Space Research Organization announced similar findings that year, after analyzing data from its 2008 Moon Impact Probe crash on the moon, as part of the Chandrayaan-1 mission. This could be an important resource for astronauts, both for drinking water and for creating rocket fuel from the Moon’s surface.
Artemis I is the first phase of humanity’s return to the lunar surface, setting off a series of increasingly complex journeys to the Moon. The first flight will take place on the SLS vehicle, which will place the Orion spacecraft on a lunar transfer trajectory.
Instead of landing on the Moon, Artemis I will fly thousands of miles past it. During its journey, Orion will travel 280,000 miles from Earth and spend about three weeks in space. After traveling beyond the Moon, Artemis I will return to Earth.
If Artemis I is successful, the initial phase will allow humans to board in 2024. Artemis II is designed to carry humans aboard the Orion spacecraft, although they will not land on the Moon either. Instead, the spacecraft is designed to orbit the Moon and return to Earth.
The spacecraft will circle the Earth twice and periodically fire up its engine to build up enough speed to propel it to the Moon. After circling the Moon, the spacecraft will use the Moon’s gravitational pull to launch itself toward Earth.
If these two lunar journeys go well, then it’s time for the final act.
Artemis III will be the second crewed flight of Artemis aboard the Orion spacecraft. But this time, the mission will land on the Moon. Once it reaches the Moon, the spacecraft will connect to the Lunar Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the Moon.
Artemis III is scheduled for the year 2026.
What’s next for Artemis?
The wet dress rehearsal will be the last major test of the Artemis I mission, ensuring the rocket, spacecraft and ground equipment are all ready for launch. By then, NASA will be ready to announce the launch date for Artemis I.
Meanwhile, the agency is still working on Artemis II and III, selecting two or more astronauts to make the trip. However, the timing of these later missions will become clearer as NASA moves forward with Artemis I.