NASA’s Artemis 1 Moon Rocket Boosters May Expire in December
As the launch date for NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission keeps getting postponed due to disturbances and storms, a deadline for its solid rocket boosters is fast approaching.
The launch of Artemis 1 – which will use a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, aided by two boosters, to launch an unmanned aerial vehicle Orion capsule to the moon – was delayed again, this time until Wednesday (16 Nov.) due to the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Nicole on Florida’s Space Coast. Satellite images show Nicole currently looming in the Atlantic Ocean next to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which generates wind speeds of up to 110 km/h as it approaches the center’s launch pad 39B, where the Artemis 1 stack sits, ready to brave the storm.
With the Artemis 1 lunar mission once again postponed, there are concerns that some of the hardware may expire before launch. For example, several key deadlines regarding the mission’s two solid rocket boosters, built by Northrop Grumman, are approaching. If Artemis 1 hasn’t launched by mid-December, NASA will need to analyze the boosters to see if they’re still launchable beyond their current expiration dates.
Related: NASA postpones Artemis 1 moon launch until November 16 due to Tropical Storm Nicole
At a media briefing on Nov. 3, NASA officials told reporters that several parts of the SLS vehicle‘s boosters are approaching their current expiration date, based on the most recent analysis team members have performed.
Cliff Lanham, Senior Vehicle Operations Manager of the Exploration Ground Systems Program at KSC, told reporters that the countdown begins once a missile is stacked. That countdown is currently ticking off for the Artemis 1 vehicle.
“If you stack your first segment on the back segment, you start a clock that was originally 12 months,” Lanhan said. “It’s currently been analyzed for up to 23 months and it’s progressing. One piece is set to expire on December 9 this year and the other is on December 14 this year.”
Another environmental exposure assessment expires Dec. 15, he added.
If Artemis 1 didn’t launch on those dates, the mission team would need to conduct further analysis to determine if the expiration dates of the rocket’s various components could be extended, said Jim Free, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA. Headquarters in Washington, DC
“Each of them has a different revisit date — that’s my term — when we have to go back and do the analysis again and look at the assumptions in the analysis. And it’s really more of a function of when we do it.” feel that those assumptions are no longer good and the boosters fall into that category,” Free said during the Nov. 3 media briefing. “I think I would be doing our team and you a disservice by saying we can just go forever because I don’t think that’s the case. I think we look at the analysis with a different one every time set of lenses, thinking about what else could have changed.”
NASA is currently looking at a two-hour window for the Artemis 1 launch that opens Wednesday (Nov. 16) at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT). If successful, the launch will send an unmanned Orion capsule in orbit around the moon and back. The launch will be the first mission of the Artemis program where humans will eventually return to the moon near the moon moon south pole in 2025 or 2026, with the ultimate goal of establishing a permanent base on the moon.
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