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Artemis I: NASA targets Aug. 29 maiden launch of mega moon rocket from Florida

The Artemis I ahead of a wet dress rehearsal test attempt in April. NASA complete the test in June and is now targeting an August launch. (NASA)

NASA said its engineers continue to prepare the Artemis I moon rocket for a late August launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The space agency is working toward the maiden voyage of the 32-story-tall Space Launch System, which will lift off from Launch Pad 39B, sending the crewless Orion spacecraft to orbit the moon.

On Wednesday, agency managers revealed NASA is targeting no earlier than Aug. 29 to launch the SLS and Orion from Kennedy Space Center. The space agency also has Sept. 2 and Sept. 5 as backup launch dates.

Here are the tentative launch and return dates for Orion if the current timeline sticks:

  • Aug. 29: 2-hour launch window opens at 8:33 a.m. ET. After orbiting the moon, Orion would splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 10.
  • Sept. 2: 2-hour launch window opens at 12:48 p.m. ET. With this launch date, Orion would return to Earth on Oct. 11.
  • Sept. 5: 90-minute launch window opens at 5:13 p.m. ET. Orion would splash down on Oct. 17.

About a week ahead of liftoff, NASA will confirm the launch date.

NASA managers stressed on Wednesday in a call with reporters that there is still a lot that needs to be done to prepare the massive moon rocket for its first spaceflight. 

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NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Sunday, April 3, 2022. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

In June, the SLS was loaded with 700,000 pounds of cryogenic fuel and launch control took the rocket through a test countdown known as the wet dress rehearsal. After NASA managers declared the test a success, the SLS and Orion were rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to prepare for the Artemis-1 test flight.

Last week, engineers working to repair a hydrogen leak discovered during the wet dress rehearsal identified a loose-fitting valve known as a collet within the rocket's engine section that must be fixed. Technicians also replaced seals on the quick liquid hydrogen disconnect and continue to work on other launch preparations.

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The upcoming launch window from Aug. 23 to Sept. 6 is based on the alignment of the Earth and moon, among other criteria. NASA posted a list of all the launch windows through the end of the year. 

In late June, the NASA Exploration Ground Systems Program senior vehicle operations manager Cliff Lanham estimated six to eight weeks of work lay ahead once the SLS is back inside the hangar. 

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The Axiom-1 mission blasts off from Pad 39A as NASA's Artemis I rocket sits on nearby Pad 39B for tests. (FOX photo) ( )

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Preparations for the Orion spacecraft also continue inside the VAB. Teams recently installed a video system called Callisto developed by Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco to provide video aboard the test flight to the moon. 

When the Artemis I test flight happens, a crewless Orion will be sent on a path around the moon and back to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. While no astronauts will be on board this flight, three manikins named Campos, Holga and Zohar will ride along and collect data throughout the mission.

The first astronaut flight around the moon will be known as Artemis II, leading up to the return to the moon with Artemis III in 2025.

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