According to a top NASA source, the agency will set a goal deployment date for the very first Space Launch System operation soon, but it is “more than likely” to be in early 2022. NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana indicated during a Maryland Space Business Roundtable webcast on September 30 that a specific launch date for the Artemis 1 mission had not been decided but that it was unlikely to happen before the end of the year.
“Hopefully, by next week, I’ll be able to give you a definite date on that.” “After the group comes and informs us on where we stand, we’ll establish an initial date,” he said. “We’ll be flying the Artemis 1 mission early next year, more than likely.”
Artemis 1 still could deploy before the close of the year, according to NASA officials, though they are increasingly hedging their expectations. In a conference call with reporters on September 21, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “Artemis 1 is going to be at the close of this year or even the first portion of next year.”
Cabana claimed they had just finished “modal testing” of SLS the night before, which involves vibrating the vehicle to discover its inherent frequencies. The Orion spacecraft will be installed next, taking the position of a mass simulator that is presently on the rocket’s top. He stated that the Orion spacecraft would be brought to the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on October 13 to be installed onto the SLS.
The complete stack will then be moved out to the Launch Complex 39B for the wet dress rehearsal, during which the core stage will be loaded with liquid oxygen as well as liquid hydrogen in a rehearsal countdown that will end just before the stage’s four RS-25 engines ignite. After that, this rocket will return to VAB for any last repairs and inspections before returning to the launch pad.
He declined to disclose his best guess for the launch date of Artemis 1 and also future Artemis missions later in the presentation, citing the scheduled briefing. “Kathy [Lueders] and Jim Free are coming up here next week to brief me as well as the entire team on all of the job they performed at Kennedy this week,” he explained. “Hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll have some more realistic timeframes for when we’ll be able to complete these objectives. So, keep an eye out.”
Free was named associate administrator for exploration systems development by NASA on September 21, as part of a reorganization that saw the previous Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) divided into two groups. Lueders, who was previously head of HEOMD, has been promoted to associate administrator in charge of the space operations, where he is in charge of the International Space Station and other associated activities.