NASA has announced that the Orion spacecraft has been successfully stacked aboard the Space Launch System rocket that will propel it into orbit in the future. With the stacking of the rocket complete, it is now ready to be carried to the launchpad for its long-awaited flight into orbit.
Along with the completion of rocket stacking, NASA has now confirmed a likely launch date for the uncrewed Artemis I mission.
The mammoth moon rocket, the first since the Apollo program, is months behind schedule (it was originally scheduled to launch in November), but NASA officials indicated Friday that it might fly as early as Feb.12 12 if final tests go well. According to them, the first launch window for its uncrewed Artemis 1 mission around the moon will open around that time.
As part of NASA's Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts back to the moon as early as 2024 to establish a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around Earth's nearest neighbor, the Space Launch System, or SLS, is being developed to transport astronauts to the moon, Mars, and other distant destinations.
It is made up of two primary parts: the SLS rocket and the Orion crew capsule. Engineers mounted the crew capsule atop its 322-foot-tall mega launcher last week inside High Bay 3 of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. The stacking marked the accomplishment of a significant milestone in the agency's countdown to launch.
The pair will fly the first mission in NASA's Artemis lunar program, an uncrewed voyage around the moon set to start early next year. The flight, dubbed Artemis 1, is expected to take off as early as Feb. 12.
"Completing stacking is a really important milestone," Mike Sarafin, NASA's Artemis 1 program manager said during a news briefing to discuss the program's progress.
"It shows that we're in the homestretch toward the mission."
The objective of the Artemis 1 mission is to put the launcher-capsule system through its paces in preparation for Artemis 2, the spacecraft's second flight and first crew launch. The flight is expected to take off in 2023, but it will not land on the moon. Instead, it would orbit the moon, laying the groundwork for a lunar landing.