September 28, 2023
NASA's mobile launcher for the first three Artemis Moon missions.
Enlarge / NASA’s cell launcher for the primary three Artemis Moon missions.

Stephen Clark/Ars Technica

NASA’s repaired and upgraded cell launch platform moved again to its launch pad on the Kennedy Area Heart this week. This marks a transition from refurbishment after the launch of the Artemis I mission final yr into preparations for Artemis II—the Moon program’s first flight with astronauts.

The enormous construction sustained extra harm than anticipated in the course of the first launch of NASA’s Area Launch System rocket final November. The 380-foot-tall (116-meter) launch tower has been parked simply north of the enduring Automobile Meeting Constructing since January, present process repairs and modifications to organize it for its subsequent use on Artemis II.

That work is now largely full, and NASA’s Apollo-era crawler-transporter started transferring the launch platform again to Launch Advanced 39B on Wednesday for about 4 months of testing. Then, if all goes effectively, NASA will declare the construction prepared for stacking of the SLS Moon rocket for Artemis II.

“What’s the temper? I feel people are actually able to get again into pad operations,” stated Jeremy Parsons, deputy supervisor of NASA’s exploration floor methods program at Kennedy. “They’re actually able to get again into stacking. It’s been a push, however I can’t be extra pleased with them.”

NASA is utilizing the $1 billion launch platform for its first three Artemis missions. That is the construction that the rocket sits on throughout launch preparations, transferring the automobile between its meeting constructing and its seaside launch pad at Kennedy. Meeting of a separate, bigger, dearer tower is lastly underway on the Kennedy Area Heart for missions beginning with Artemis IV within the late 2020s.

After launching from Florida on the SLS rocket, the Artemis II mission will carry 4 astronauts on a loop across the far facet of the Moon. The crew members will trip inside NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the roughly 10-day flight, the primary time individuals can have traveled to the neighborhood of the Moon since 1972.

The Artemis II check flight will set the stage for extra bold flights to the Moon, with eventual human landings on the south pole and building of a mini-space station known as Gateway in lunar orbit.

Looking forward to Artemis II

We’ll focus on the main points of the cell launcher upgrades later on this story, however first, let’s preview how NASA hopes the Artemis II launch marketing campaign will proceed subsequent yr.

Jim Free, who oversees NASA’s Artemis Moon program, stated final week that preparations for the Artemis II mission are a couple of weeks not on time from the company’s goal launch date in November 2024. That is no large shock, and Ars has reported a slip into 2025 is probably going.

However NASA hasn’t formally given up on November 2024. Parsons informed Ars this week that the bottom processing group in Florida is searching for efficiencies within the Artemis II launch marketing campaign to counter delays within the Orion spacecraft, the readiness of which is now driving the launch schedule. This Orion capsule will debut new life-support methods, cockpit shows, and controls that did not fly on the unpiloted Artemis I mission final yr.

In broad strokes, this is a take a look at the timeline over the subsequent yr or so.

  • August: Cell launcher rolls to Launch Advanced 39B for testing
  • September: Pre-fueled strong rocket booster segments arrive at Kennedy Area Heart by rail from Northrop Grumman’s Utah meeting website; Orion crew and repair modules are mated at Kennedy to start built-in assessments
  • November: SLS core stage ships to Kennedy from the Michoud Meeting Facility in Louisiana
  • December/January: Cell launcher returns to Automobile Meeting Constructing to organize for stacking
  • February: Stacking of the strong rocket boosters begins on the cell launcher
  • April: Core stage is stacked in between the strong rocket boosters; Orion spacecraft is handed over to floor processing group for fueling
  • Might: Interim cryogenic propulsion stage is stacked on prime of the core stage
  • Mid-2024: Orion spacecraft is fueled and launch abort system is put in earlier than transferring to the Automobile Meeting Constructing for stacking