ORLANDO, Fla. — NASA has sent the Artemis I rocket back to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center for testing later this month, looking to get back on track for a potential moon launch as early as August.
The 5.75 million-pound, 322-foot-tall combination of the Space Launch System, Orion capsule and mobile launcher left the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center early Monday to make the 4.4-mile slow crawl to Launch Pad 39-B.
The rocket still needs to run through a complete wet dress rehearsal during which NASA will fill and drain the core and upper stage with 730,000 gallons of super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen while also simulating a countdown but without lighting the engines.
It first rolled out to the launch pad back in March, but several issues scrubbed three test run attempts forcing the rocket back to the VAB, but now mission managers hope their headaches are behind them.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good plan in place. We’ll see how it turns out as we get into our next attempt, but I certainly think we’ve learned a lot and figured out a lot of specific things and how you want to do this dance,” said Tom Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development.
Officials said they would shoot for as early as June 19 for the test retry. The rocket would then still need to return to the VAB one more time before finally making what would be its final rollout to the launch pad for a liftoff that could take place during the first available launch window that runs through Aug. 10.
Other potential windows run from Aug. 23-Sept. 6, Sept. 20-Oct. 4, Oct. 17-31, Nov. 12-27 and Dec. 9-23. Each window has only certain days during which the Earth and moon are in the right position for the planned mission.
The flight is the first of three Artemis missions on the books, this first being an uncrewed flight around the moon.
Artemis II will bring crew around the moon again no earlier than May 2024 while Artemis III targeting 2025 looks to return humans, including the first woman, to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.