Space force

NASA and Space Force discuss options for Artemis I launch

ORLANDO, Fla. — To use a theater metaphor, the curtain has yet to be drawn on NASA’s opportunities to launch the Artemis I mission this month.

During a media conference call Thursday, Sept. 8, NASA leaders said they were working on a plan that could see the launch of the 322-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and spacecraft. Orion from September 23 or 27.

What do you want to know

  • Eastern range to grant NASA a waiver on its flight termination system batteries at the rocket’s core stage to attempt further launches in September
  • The range is currently evaluating NASA’s request
  • If approved, it would help pave the way for a September 23 or 27 launch attempt.

SLS chief engineer John Blevins said he was confident they had the right people and the right architecture to overcome the leak issue that canceled the September 3 launch attempt.

“I can see the inner workings of this team and where we are and I feel really good about being able to pivot and work through any issues that we come across,” Blevins said. “And I’m very confident that the teams will solve the problem that prevents us from launching.”

Blevins and the team discussed an ongoing plan to perform repairs on the rocket while it was on the platform at Launch Complex 39B (LC-39B). Then they hope to perform a cryogenic test on or around September 17.

This would involve loading liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) into the core and upper stage tanks of the SLS rocket. The upper stage is the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) provided by United Launch Alliance (ULA).

(NASA described the components of the SLS core stage during its first launch attempt on August 29, 2022. (NASA via Twitter))

NASA hopes the cryogenic test will show that their solution to the hydrogen leak will survive the next launch attempt.

Eastern Range makes the call

The dates of September 23 and 27 were submitted to Space Force Space Launch Delta 45, which operates the eastern range from Space Force Station Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The team, which includes the 1st Range Operations Squadron (1 ROPS) is reviewing the data and the formal proposal to extend certification of the rocket’s Flight Termination System (TPS) batteries.

NASA is hoping for an answer before it wants to do the tanking test.

“We continue to investigate if the range has any questions. Obviously, we’d like to hear from them, but we’re following their process,” said Jim Free, the associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.

“So at this time we have submitted the waiver and we will seek to hear from them what clarifications they need from us.”

Spectrum News reached out to SLD 45 on Thursday and they sent the following statement about their ongoing discussions:

“Space Launch Delta 45, operator of the East Range, is in discussions with NASA to examine its request for an extension of the certification of the flight termination system for the Space Launch System rocket. Each vehicle’s launch criteria are used to develop mission rules that govern permitted flight behavior to ensure public safety, which is the Eastern Range’s primary task.

“SLD 45 and the Eastern Range have enjoyed a trusted partnership with NASA that dates back to the earliest days of manned spaceflight. SLD 45 will continue to provide NASA with the launch infrastructure and range resources necessary to ensure a safe access to space.

Artemis and other jockeys for a place in the NASA program

While the Artemis I uncrewed mission is one of the key items on NASA’s agenda, it’s by no means the only star of the show.

In just over two weeks, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) planetary defense mission will reach its asteroid for impact. Free said Thursday that if they launched on September 23, it would free up the Deep Space Network for necessary communications with the DART spacecraft, which launched on November 24, 2021.

“If we are lucky enough to get the range waiver and actually launch the 23rdour critical needs, after the initial launch, would fall on the other side of the DART impact on the 26e“, Free said.

He added that a Sept. 27 launch would put them on the opposite side of the DART mission, which would be just as acceptable.

(NASA’s DART mission is set to intercept the moon of the asteroid Didymos on September 26, 2022. The mission launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in November 2021 (NASA))

Free also hinted at “a few other activities on the lineup that are planned for the 30e”, but did not give details on these.

He also noted that they had considered a third date in this series of potential launch dates (collectively referred to as Launch Period 26). However, Free said this possible third date would conflict with the timeline that the SpaceX Crew-5 mission is trying to establish.

The four-member international crew is currently scheduled to take off from the LC-39A no earlier than Monday, October 3 at 12:45 p.m.

If this plan is unable to proceed, NASA will likely return the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building and attempt a launch during Launch Window 27 or 28.

LP 27 – Oct. 17-31

o 11 launch opportunities

o No launch available on October 24, 26 and 28

LP 28 – Nov. 12-27 (preliminary)

o 12 launch opportunities

o Not available at launch on November 20, 21 and 26