After suffering bad weather, leaks and engine problems, Artemis 1, which has just suffered the passage of Nicole, could still be launched on November 16. However, a few boxes still need to be ticked first.
Artemis 1, which will send an Orion capsule into lunar orbit, is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Wednesday during a two-hour window starting at 7:04 a.m. Paris time. And the mission team is confident that it can achieve this goal.
In the meantime, the teams will still have to work on a thin strip of caulking (called RTV) that encircles the vessel. The RTV helps smooth out a small indentation in the capsule that could potentially cause unwanted airflow and heating during flight. Hurricane Nicole tore part of this caulking last Thursday. It’s possible that some of the storm-torn RTVs break free during takeoffcreating a debris hazard for the SLS.
The team is still reviewing the nature and severity of this risk. If it determines that the risks to the rocket are low, it will remain on the launch pad. Otherwise, and because the orion ship is installed at the very top of the launcher, the SLS will have to return to the vehicle assembly building so that repairs can be carried out.
Additionally, the team plans to replace an electrical connector near the base of the SLS that is associated with some wonky readings. This, on the other hand, can be done directly on the pad.
For the time being, the engineers say to themselves confident, but nothing is set in stone yet. The Artemis 1 team will meet again this Monday to discuss these and other questions. We will know more then.
A 26 day mission
Artemis 1 will be the first-ever flight for the SLS rocket and the second for Orion, which launched into Earth orbit in 2014 for a test flight. It will also be the first mission of NASA’s Artemis exploration programwhich aims to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon by the end of the decade.
If all goes as planned with Artemis 1 (90% chance of sunny Wednesday), the mission should last 26 days. In the event of a new problem, NASA can always launch it on November 19 or November 25. Artemis 2 will then send astronauts around the Moon in 2024while Artemis 3 will send the first astronauts to lunar soil for the first time since the end of the Apollo era, likely in 2025 or 2026.