MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – NASA officials held a teleconference Friday to talk about what’s next for the Artemis I moon mission, forecasting the first flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket no earlier than late August.
The agency said on Thursday it finished the final grounded test of the SLS. Now, the 30-story launch vehicle will return to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center for as many as six to eight weeks of examination — as well as for the repair of a hydrogen leak found during the most recent wet dress rehearsal — before it’s returned to a launch pad.
Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager at KSC’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, said the rocket should be back in the VAB by July 1 or 2.
“We’re going to get back to the VAB. We’ve got a good strategy to go work on this four-inch QD, take it apart and inspect it and get it back together, get some confidence that that’s going to work right, and we’ll get back to the pad for launch,” Weber said.
Weber said the six-to-eight week timeframe is subject to change based on what’s found inside of the VAB or elsewhere.
The conference also included John Blevins, chief engineer on the SLS program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager of the EGS program at KSC and Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C.
According to Whitmeyer, while he also tempered reporters’ expectations of a flight test as early as late August, he expressed a good feeling about completing the rocket’s Flight Readiness Review (FRR) process regardless.
“We think we’re really in good shape and we’re really not working on any major technical issues at this time. It’s strictly a matter of completing vehicle processing and getting ready to do a launch attempt. And I want to be realistic with you, you know, we could learn something when we get into the VAB, we could learn something (when) we get back at the pad. You know, we always try to be careful to recognize that there’s still a path in front of us. But in terms of the data we have today and the information we’re working with today, we feel very comfortable that we’re on a good path to get through the FRR process unless we learn something new,” Whitmeyer said.
Whitmeyer and his fellow panelists were generally optimistic about the short-term future of Artemis I, with their caution moreso focused on expecting the unexpected.
“We feel getting through the wet dress was a major milestone for us, it gives us some confidence that we’re still on a good path, but we won’t be able to answer a specific question (about a launch date) until we complete some work back in the VAB, take a look at some of the hardware, make sure there’s absolutely nothing we’re missing,” Whitmeyer said.