NASA still intends to launch its Artemis 1 lunar rocket on Wednesday (November 16), but there are a few boxes to tick first.
Artemis 1which will send an unmanned Orion capsule into lunar orbit with a space launch system (SLS) rocket is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Wednesday during a two-hour time window that opens at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604). And the mission team is confident that it can achieve that goal.
“I feel good about tackling this attempt on the 16th,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington, during a news conference Sunday evening (November 13).
“The team is moving forward as one,” he added. “We just have something to do.”
A focus of this work will be a thin sealing strip surrounding Orion called RTV. The RTV helps smooth out a small indentation in the capsule that could potentially lead to unwanted circulation and air heating during flight, Sarafin said.
Hurricane Nicole ripped away part of that stake Thursday (November 10) as it slammed into Florida’s Space Coast, mission team members said. (The stack Artemis 1 endured the wrath of Nicolewhich weakened to a tropical storm shortly after landfall, outdoors on KSC’s pad 39B.)
It’s possible some of the storm-torn RTVs could shake free during launch and pose a debris hazard to the SLS, Sarafin said. The team is still investigating the nature and severity of this risk.
“We just need to spend a little more time reviewing our flight justification for this launch attempt, particularly as it relates to the exemption of any remaining RTV and debris transports,” Sarafin said.
The Artemis 1 team isn’t overly concerned about the increasing “aeroheating” in the area Orion due to the loss of some RTV, he added.
“We have safeguards in place regarding the materials underlying this RTV,” he said. “It’s just an extra layer to create a kind of seamless airflow.”
The RTV issue cannot be fixed on the launch pad because Orion sits so high above the SLS. If the team determines that the seals need to be replaced, a rollback to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building would likely be required.
In addition to the RTV analyses, the team plans to replace an electrical connector near the base of the SLS that’s linked to some shaky readings. This can be done at the drop. And it’s less of an issue, Sarafin said, because the missile has considerable redundancy in its electrical systems.
“We have some very well written entry criteria that are very well thought out,” Sarafin said. Those criteria, he added, “would support flying, despite what this plug could bring.
The Artemis 1 team will meet again on Monday (November 14) to discuss these and other questions. They plan to hold another briefing this afternoon to give us an update on the situation and the latest thinking at this time.
Artemis 1 will be the first-ever flight for SLS and the second for Orion, which was launched in 2014 on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
It will also be NASA’s first mission Artemis program of lunar exploration, which aims to establish a manned outpost near the moon’s south pole by the late 2020s.
If all goes according to plan with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will launch in 2024 and send astronauts on a round trip the moon. Artemis 3 will put boots on the ground near the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026.
Artemis 1 will last around 26 days when it launches on Wednesday. (Different launch dates result in different mission durations, thanks to orbital dynamics.) Mother Nature should cooperate; There is a 90 percent chance of good weather on Wednesday. If Artemis 1 fails to fly that day, NASA has backup data from 11/19 and Nov 25.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or he Facebook (opens in new tab).