Artemis I mission managers update timeline for Saturday launch

SLS would return to VAB in event of delays past Sept. 6

With one day to go until NASA’s next shot at getting the Artemis I mission off the ground, those in charge provided a timeline update during a pre-launch news briefing Friday morning.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – With one day to go until NASA’s next shot at getting the Artemis I mission off the ground, those in charge provided a timeline update during a pre-launch news briefing Friday morning.

The conference addressed the status of the countdown, as NASA previewed on its blog. Its participants included Jeremy Parsons, deputy program manager of Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center, and Space Launch Delta 45 Launch Weather Officer Melody Lovin. The two described timelines for Artemis I in ideal and delay-related scenarios.

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Echoing Thursday’s update, Parsons and Lovin reaffirmed that Artemis I will stay on schedule for a launch attempt Saturday afternoon during a two-hour window that opens at 2:17 p.m.

“Last night after the briefing we powered up Orion, we performed all the RF testing, we also powered up the core stage, all looked nominal. We ran final leak checks on the inner tank umbilical, so this was the area that had a leak during launch countdown event one. Again, all passed ambient along with the tail service mast umbilical, so good leak checks there,” Parsons said.

At 2:17 p.m. Thursday, Parsons said the Artemis I countdown was reset to T-minus 45:00:00 and counting. On Friday, a series of launch release system checks will be performed.

“We got a really busy afternoon moving everything into final launch configurations, that’s handrails, heavy equipment, things like that. When we talk about going into tomorrow and the day of launch, activities pick up really early,” Parsons said.

A tanking meeting will convene at 4:45 a.m. with cryo operations to begin at 5:30 a.m. pending what decision is reached. Engine bleed kickstart occurs at 8 a.m. and will continue for an hour, what Parsons said would be a big milestone leading up to the launch. After this, at T-2:20:00, the fuel tank will be brought to flight pressure for a period of time in a pre-press test.

According to Parsons, any delays that may occur ahead of the launch would not lead to a minute-to-minute slip of the launch window itself. While engineers could likely work around small delays, Parsons said Saturday’s schedule is not open to very many changes.

“There’s not a lot of margin in the timeline. It’s very orchestrated, but they may be able to deal with certain, you know, 15-minute delays, 20-minute delays, those sorts of things, and will try and make up time as they go through,” Parsons said.

According to the 45th Weather Squadron’s mission forecast, issued Thursday, the launch has a 60% chance of experiencing favorable weather conditions. In the event that the launch is delayed to Monday, Sept. 5, the weather is expected to improve. At Thursday’s news conference, Lovin said she didn’t expect the weather to be a “show-stopper” in either case, what she repeated Friday.

“Our weather is going to start off at a 40% probability violation, which of course means that 60% ‘Go,’ however we do start evaluating the weather three hours before the launch window opens, of course, that’s right around 11 o’clock or so. So, I do expect to make some no-go calls at some point tomorrow, however as that East Coast sea breeze drifts farther inland, we do expect clearing on the backside of that, and that is the reason why we are turning the forecast to more of an 80% favorability (from 60%) at the end of the launch window tomorrow afternoon.” Lovin said. “ I said yesterday, I do not expect weather to be a show-stopper by any means for everyone for either launch window.”

If the launch is pushed to Monday, Sept. 5, Lovin said the 45th Weather Squadron forecasted a 30% probability violation.

Should the launch be entirely delayed (past Sept. 6), Parsons said the SLS configuration would have to rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to undergo safety checks.

“Our flight termination system is kind of the pacing function for needing to roll back after this launch period... it’s based off retest requirements. So right now the range says every so many days prior to launch, you have to test that flight termination system. Right now, we worked with them, we provided data for little over 20 days since we tested it to launch time. We believe we would need to roll back and retest that system just to meet the range requirements. So right now, after (Sept. 6) we’d roll back, retest,” Parsons said. “It’s a relatively short retest of the flight termination system just to provide confidence to the range that, you know, the public will be safe.”

NASA officials held a news conference Thursday evening to discuss updates on the Artemis I launch scheduled for Saturday.

The launch attempt this latest Monday was waived off because one of the SLS rocket’s four RS-25 engines showed higher temperature readings than the rest because of a bad sensor, officials said. Mission managers now believe they have resolved the issue.

With the delay from Monday in mind, agency officials on Thursday said Artemis I is expected to be a 37-day mission, with splashdown of the Orion spacecraft on Oct. 11.

“There’s no guarantee that we’re gonna get off on Saturday, but we’re gonna try,” Artemis I Mission Manager Mike Sarafin said Thursday. “The technical teams have put in a tremendous amount of work in a very short amount of time to get us here.”

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