The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has announced that the test phase for the Artemis I space mission had been completed. This decision followed the analysis of the data collected during the launch ‘wet dress rehearsal’ conducted at the Kennedy Space Centre in the US State of Florida on June 20. The Space Launch System heavy rocket and the Orion spacecraft that it will lift into space would now be ‘rolled back’ to the Vehicle Assembly Building during this week, where the rocket and space capsule would be prepared for actual launch.
Artemis I will be an uncrewed test flight. Following Nasa’s decision that the testing phase was over, Artemis I was now scheduled for launch in late August, although the specific target date has not yet been set.
“During the wet dress rehearsal activities, we have incrementally added to our knowledge about how the rocket and ground systems work together, and our teams have become proficient in launch procedures across multiple sites,” reported Nasa deputy associate administrator: common exploration systems Tom Whitmeyer. “We have completed the rehearsal phase, and everything we’ve learned will help improve our ability to lift off during the target launch window. The team is now ready to take the next step and prepare for launch.”
The wet dress rehearsal had two primary and several secondary objectives. These were successfully achieved, despite a leak in the liquid hydrogen loading system, owing to a faulty seal on the ‘quick disconnect’ unit of the umbilical hose on the tail service mast at the launch pad. Liquid hydrogen was the fuel for the SLS (it will be mixed with liquid oxygen in the rocket motors’ combustion chambers, to allow ignition). A new seal will be fitted. Once this problem has been addressed, Nasa will set its target launch date for Artemis I.
“The team continues to impress me with their and [sic] creative thinking and resourcefulness,” affirmed Kennedy Space Centre Artemis I launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson in her statement on the test. “Our Artemis launch team has worked quickly to adapt to the dynamics of propellant loading operations. With each milestone and each test, we are another step closer to launch.”
With the Artemis programme, Nasa was returning to human space exploration missions, after decades of confining crewed missions to Earth orbit only. Assuming the success of Artemis I, Artemis II would be the first crewed mission, which would orbit but not land on the Moon. Artemis III would return humans to the Moon, including the first woman and the first person of colour to go there. The last time humans were on the lunar surface was almost exactly 50 years ago, with Nasa’s Apollo 17 mission, in December 1972. It should be pointed out that, in Greek mythology, the goddess Artemis was the sister of the god Apollo.