If everything works out perfectly,could blast off for the first time from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center as soon as Friday, Sept. 23.
For that to happen, the space agency will need to fix aon the launch pad and also get special permission from the US Space Force, which oversees rocket launches from Florida. NASA is required to have the batteries rechecked on the SLS rocket’s flight termination system, which destroys the rocket if it veers off course to prevent a threat to the public. This has to happen every 25 days and Sept. 23 is outside that window.
The problem for NASA is that checking the batteries requires rolling SLS all the way back to the Vehicle Assembly Building or VAB. This could add several days to the process and SLS is only certified to make the trip from its hangar to the launch pad so many time, according to Eric Berger of Ars Technica.
“So if they were to roll back to VAB this month and then back to the pad, they would have just one roundtrip left,” Berger wrote on Twitter.
All this means the Artemis I mission managers would prefer to fix the propellant leak, pass a tanking test and blast off with the blessing of the Space Force without having to move the rocket at all.
During a press call Thursday, Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, confirmed the agency has requested a waiver from the Space Force that would allow SLS to stay put.
If the waiver is granted and the leak fixed, the launch could happen on the 23rd, with a backup date of Sept. 27.
The long-awaited debut of SLS, the Orion crew capsule and the first major Artemis program mission was scrubbed twice last week, first on Aug. 29 due to engine issues and then on Saturday because of the leak.
The mission will see SLS send an uncrewed Orion on a weeks-long flight around the far side of the moon and back for a high speed reentry into Earth’s atmosphere followed by a splashdown landing.
Artemis 1 is designed to pave the way for the first crewed Orion mission in 2024 and eventually for the return of NASA astronauts to the surface of the moon and then on to Mars in the 2030s.
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