The long-awaited launch of NASA’s big new lunar rocket to its launch pad in Florida for final tests before a first flight has been delayed by at least a month, until March at the earliest, the US space agency said on Wednesday.
NASA, which at the end of last year was aiming for liftoff this month of its uncrewed Artemis 1 mission around the moon and back, declined to set a revised launch date, but the delay would prevent a flight before April. .
In a briefing for reporters, NASA executives said there were no specific major difficulties holding up their schedule, but rather a higher-than-usual volume of technical hurdles to overcome in preparing for a large and complex rocket system. for your first release.
“It’s really what I would call a kind of to-do list of a bunch of things that we absolutely need to get done and then we’ll be ready to launch the vehicle,” said NASA deputy assistant administrator Tom Whitmeyer.
At stake is the combined fate of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion crew capsule it will send into the air for the Artemis program, which aims to return to humans. to the moon and eventually establish a long-term lunar colony as a precursor to sending astronauts to Mars.
The US Apollo program sent six astronauts to the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972, the only manned spaceflight to date to accomplish that feat.
In November, NASA announced that its goal would be to achieve the first manned lunar landing of Artemis, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, as early as 2025.
But the space agency has several spaceflight rungs to accomplish before it gets there, beginning with a successful maiden flight of the SLS and Orion, now in the final stages of pre-launch preparations.
The launch of the towering spacecraft, a key milestone marking the public’s first glimpse of the newly assembled 36-story-tall rocket vehicle and capsule as it moves, was recently planned for mid-February.
According to the updated schedule outlined Wednesday, the SLS-Orion will be transported on a giant tracked transporter in March, likely mid-month, from its assembly building to Launch Pad 39-B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. in Cabo. Canaveral, Florida.
Once there, it will take about two weeks for technicians to prepare the launch vehicle for a “wet dress rehearsal” that includes fully loading the rocket’s fuel tanks with propellant and running a simulated countdown.
NASA will then bring the SLS-Orion stack back to the assembly building for one last round of checks before officially setting a new target liftoff date. In a statement Wednesday, NASA said it was reviewing launch windows in April and May, but the timeline could be pushed back further depending on the outcome of the dress rehearsal, space agency officials said.