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Artemis I will get three launch attempts in coming weeks

NASA’s huge Space Launch System (SLS) will get its three launch attempts in the coming weeks after officials approved an extension to validation of the Flight Termination System from 20 to 25 days.

Depending on when it launches, the mission could last anywhere from four to six weeks during which the spacecraft will be placed into orbit around the Moon before returning to Earth and a splashdown off the coast of California.

At present, NASA is aiming to launch Artemis I on August 29. It has backup attempts available on September 2 and 5. The Flight Termination System (FTS) clock starts ticking in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) when the batteries are charged and testing completed. Twenty days would have removed that third opportunity, but 25 means NASA has a bit more room to maneuver in its inaugural launch campaign for the hugely delayed and hugely over-budget rocket.

After all, it’s a new rocket launching during Florida’s hurricane season. What could possibly go wrong?

The approval was given by Space Launch Delta 45. The FTS is to be used to terminate the flight should the launch go awry. Once 25 days are up, the system will have to be retested (although if NASA fails to launch on one of those three dates the SLS will have to be rolled back to the VAB regardless – there is the potential for a late September launch, but late October is more likely).

As for the SLS itself, work has continued to closeout the rocket and the Orion capsule ahead of a rollout to launch pad 39B tomorrow. There is no crew on this flight, which is to test the rocket and spacecraft, although a pair of faux torsos, dubbed Helga and Zohar, will be on board to check out radiation protection. A fully suited mannequin named “Commander Moonikin Campos” will also be seated in the capsule. The mannequin is equipped with sensors to measure acceleration and vibration as well as a pair of radiation sensors.

The European Space Agency, which is providing the European Service Module (ESM) for the mission, announced earlier this month that children’s favorite Shaun the Sheep would also be along for the lunar ride.

Should all go well, the first crewed mission (Artemis II) is expected to launch in 2024. ®


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