Despite a delay in the vehicle’s rollout for a vital test until middle of February, NASA agency officials are optimistic that the very first Space Launch System deployment might still happen in March.
NASA indicated in a January 5 update on the Artemis 1 mission’s preparations that the SLS will be rolled out to Launch Complex 39B in the middle of February for a wet dress rehearsal and fueling test countdown. The SLS will return to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) for final preparations after that test before heading to the launch pad.
That wet dress rehearsal was supposed to happen this month, according to NASA. However, the NASA announced on December 17 that the rollout had been postponed due to a fault with an engine controller, which is a computer system that controls one of the SLS core stage’s four RS-25 engines. Managers chose to substitute the engine controller, delaying the deployment and ruling out a launch within the two-week window NASA had set in October.
NASA announced in December that it was “reviewing launch opportunities for Artemis 1 in March and April.” “After a satisfactory wet dress rehearsal test,” NASA noted in a January 5 update, “NASA will select a target launch date.”
Despite a postponement to mid-February, the agency leadership thinks a March launch is still possible. “Hopefully, we will roll out for a wet dress rehearsal in the month of February and later, hopefully, a deployment in March,” Bob Cabana, the NASA Associate Administrator said during a discussion at the SpaceCom conference here on January 11. “That may be a problem.”
In a separate discussion at SpaceCom on January 12, Janet Petro, who works as the director of the Kennedy Space Center, said, “We’re going to look at the wet dress rehearsal any time next month.” She didn’t give a specific date for the launch of Artemis 1, but a slide she displayed of major KSC flights in 2022 exhibited both the launch and the wet dress rehearsal of Artemis 1 taking place in the first quarter of that year.
In a panel discussion at the conference on January 11, Jeremy Parsons, who works as the deputy director in charge of the Exploration Ground Systems at KSC, observed, “We’re in the home stretch.” He estimates that the vehicle in the VAB will require another 3 weeks of integrated testing before it is ready to deploy. “We’ll roll out for wet dress rehearsal in mid-February, and deployment will probably be a month or two after that.”
Workers replaced the SLS’s defective engine controller with a new device that was powered up and working normally, he said. Engineers are examining the malfunctioning equipment and have duplicated the issue in the lab, but they are currently looking into the main cause. He then stated that the investigation does not need to be finished before the wet dress rehearsal or the deployment.
A March launch would have to happen between March 12 and 27, according to NASA officials in October, a window confined by the SLS’s upper stage’s performance and the requirement for splashdown during the daylight hours. The next launch window will be from April 8 to April 23.