NASA targets a launch date for Artemis I early next year

NASA has confirmed that it has completed stacking the Orion spacecraft aboard the Space Launch System rocket that will push it into orbit in the future. With the stacking of the rocket complete, it's ready to be transferred to the launchpad for its long-anticipated trip into orbit. Along with the completion of stacking the rocket, NASA has also now confirmed a potential launch date for the uncrewed Artemis I mission.

NASA is currently targeting liftoff for February 2022. However, before the launch can happen, NASA does have to go through a series of integrated tests to complete the checkout for the system. While there is still some testing to go, NASA Exploration Ground Systems program manager Mike Bolger says the completion of stacking Orion atop the SLS rocket is a significant milestone.

Several test campaigns must be completed between now and that potential February launch date. One of the campaigns is Interface Verification Testing, designed to verify the functionality and interoperability of the interface across all elements of the rocket and the Orion capsule. Another test campaign is Program Specific Engineering Testing to ensure various systems aboard the rocket and capsule function as intended.

NASA also has to conduct End-to-end Communications Testing, a testing program for the integrated radio frequencies between mission control to the SLS, ICPS, and Orion. Those communications are critical to ensuring communications between the rocket during the first few seconds of launch and as it travels into orbit.

One of the most critical test campaigns for the rocket is the Wet Dress Rehearsal. During that test campaign, the cryogenic fuels will be loaded into the rocket as it prepares for simulated launch. For this test, the spacecraft and rocket will be rolled to the launchpad to be prepared for fuel and various checkouts. During that test program, mission controllers will run a simulated launch that stops before the engines would fire during the real launch.