Today is International Moon Day and the 53rd anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on NASA’s famed Apollo 11 mission. It’s is also yet another day NASA has attempted to set dates for the oft-delayed Artemis I mission.
During a teleconference with media today NASA announced three launch windows in late August and early September to launch Artemis I, the first mission of NASA’s Artemis program.
NASA had 12 launch opportunities to choose from during an August 23 – September 6 launch window. They selected the following dates; August 29, September 2 and September 5. If NASA can’t make launch during this window the next launch opportunities fall between September 19 – October 4 and October 17 – October 31.
NASA’s current timeline to roll out to the pad is scheduled for August 18. If NASA does roll out to the pad at this time NASA has 20 days to launch due to the battery life for the Flight Termination System (FTS) being activated. This also means that if the battery is activated and they don’t launch they won’t be able to try again until the October 17 – October 31 launch window as the FST needs to be serviced before being used again.
The uncrewed Artemis I mission is the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and is meant to be the first integrated test of the SLS and the Orion crew spacecraft. The mission profile will see Artemis I journey to the Moon before returning back to Earth where the Orion spacecraft will splashdown off the coast of Baja, California.
During the call Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, recapped the primary objectives of the mission.
“So our first and our primary objective is to demonstrate Orion’s heat shield, its lunar reentry conditions. So we want to demonstrate that it can withstand the high speed and high heat that the spacecraft will encounter when it re enters the Earth’s atmosphere.”
“So our second objective is to demonstrate operations and and all of the flight modes of the rocket and the spacecraft all of the facilities across all the mission phases. So during the flight test, the teams will verify the the launch vehicle and the spacecraft systems such as communications propulsion navigation systems.”
“The third objective is to retrieve Orion after splashdown. And while engineers will receive data throughout the course of the mission, retrieving the crew module after splashdown will provide information to engineers to inform future flights.”
“Our fourth and final bucket of objectives is what I like to call bonus objectives. But they’re additional objectives that are not critical to flying astronauts on the subsequent missions but but are important including engaging the public. A number of our additional objectives in this fourth and final bucket include a demonstration of other capabilities in aspects of the launch vehicle with spacecraft, the overall integrated systems and recovery plans. Some of the flight test objectives will include certification of Orion optical navigation system, deploying 10 CubeSat payloads riding in the Orion stage adapter, operating the technology and biological payloads that will be flown inside the crew module on Orion and collecting imagery throughout ensuring that with the public, as far as outreach and in just sharing the mission, as we experienced it all together.”
NASA did stress during the call that there’s a lot of work to do before a decision is made to roll out to the pad in August for a possible launch attempt.
During its mission, Artemis I will “fly about 62 miles (100 km) above the surface of the Moon, and then use the Moon’s gravitational force to propel Orion into a new deep retrograde, or opposite, orbit about 40,000 miles (70,000 km) from the Moon. The spacecraft will stay in that orbit for approximately six days to collect data and allow mission controllers to assess the performance of the spacecraft. During this period, Orion will travel in a direction around the Moon retrograde from the direction the Moon travels around Earth.”
Should Artemis I meet its three objectives then the Artemis II mission timeline will be better defined. That mission will be the first crewed mission and one of the astronauts onboard will be Canadian. It will be the first crewed mission to the Moon since Apollo 17 launched in 1972. However, Artemis II will not land on the Moon, but will be in orbit before returning to Earth.
NASA provided further details on the upcoming launch windows:
August 29, 2022 Launch Window
- 08:33 EDT (12:33 UTC) (Launch window opens for 120 minutes)
- Mission duration: 42 days
- Return date: October 10
September 2, 2022 Launch Window
- 12:48 EDT (16:48 UTC) (Launch window opens for 120 minutes)
- Mission duration: 39 days
- Return date: October 11
September 5, 2022 Launch Window
- 17:12 EDT (21:12 UTC) (Launch window opens for 90 minutes)
- Mission duration: 42 days
- Return date: October 17