NASA engineers have completed the final tests of the Space Launch System (SLS), clearing the way for the mega moon rocket to roll out to the launch pad today instead of Friday as originally planned.
The space agency was able to advance the deployment date — when a caterpillar carrier moves the 322-foot-tall SLS from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center — because it completed key tests of the rocket’s Flight Termination System (FTS). The FTS is a critical series of components that ensure that a rocket can be safely destroyed after launch in the event of a major failure. The FTS test was “the last major activity” on NASA’s pre-launch task list, says the agency.
Picture credits: Nasa
Testing and installing the FTS was last on the list as the system starts a proverbial “clock” of around 20 days to launch. If the launch does not occur during this time, the system should be retested. This delay is set by the US Space Force and by the FTS’ own battery system. NASA was able to secure an extension of Space Launch Delta 45, the USSF unit that has jurisdiction over East Coast launches, from 20 days to 25 days.
This means that NASA is on track for a first attempt to launch the Artemis I mission on August 29. Thanks to the extension, NASA can now conduct backup launch attempts on September 2 and 5.
Artemis I is the first in a series of planned launches aimed at bringing humans back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo era. The main objective is to test the Orion spacecraft and ensure that it can safely transport humans. (SLS is not reusable, so while a successful launch will surely give engineers great confidence in the rocket, it won’t make a second flight.) During the mission, Orion will travel around the moon before performing a re-entry and a return to Earth. .
The manifesto’s next flight, Artemis II, is scheduled for 2024. This mission will carry humans, although they won’t land on the moon. That privilege will go to the next cohort of astronauts, which will include the first woman and person of color to land on the moon, on the Artemis III mission slated for launch mid-decade.
Deployment is expected to take approximately 11 hours. NASA will broadcast the event live on its Youtube channel at noon Pacific today. We’ll update the story with the video once it’s live.