NASA engineers have completed final testing of the Space Launch System (SLS), clearing the way for the megamoon rocket to roll onto the launch pad today instead of Friday as originally planned.
The space agency was able to push the date for the rollout — when a transporter track moves the 322-foot-tall SLS from the Vehicle Assembly Building to launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center — as it completed key tests of the missile’s flight termination system (FTS). ). The FTS is a critical set of components that ensure that a missile can be safely destroyed after launch in the event of a major failure. Testing the FTS was “the last major activity” on NASA’s pre-launch to-do list, the agency said.
Image Credits: NASA
Testing and installing the FTS was last on the list because the system starts a proverbial “clock” of about 20 days before launch. If the launch does not take place within this period, the system must be retested. This time frame has been established by the US Space Force and by the FTS’s own battery system. NASA was able to get an extension of Space Launch Delta 45, the USSF unit that has jurisdiction over East Coast launches, from 20 days to 25 days.
That means NASA is on track for a first launch attempt of the Artemis I mission on August 29. Thanks to the extension, NASA can now make backup launch attempts on September 2 and 5.
Artemis I is the first in a series of planned launches aimed at returning humans to the moon for the first time since the Apollo era. Its primary purpose is to test the Orion spacecraft and make sure it can safely carry people. (SLS is not reusable, so while a successful launch will certainly give engineers a lot of confidence about the rocket, it won’t make a second flight.) During the mission, Orion will travel around the moon before returning and returning to Earth.
The next flight in the manifesto, Artemis II, is scheduled for 2024. This mission will carry people, although they will not land on the moon. That privilege will go to the next cohort of astronauts, including the first woman and person of color to go to the moon, on the Artemis III mission set to launch mid-decade.
Today’s rollout is expected to take approximately 11 hours. Click on the video above to watch it live.