NASA reveals launch windows for Artemis 1 lunar mission through mid-2023

While the Artemis 1 rocket and spacecraft are back in store for a few more weeks, NASA has posted all the launch options the mission has in 2022.

The Artemis 1 lunar rocket could launch around the Moon as early as July 26, although the agency has scheduled dozens of launch opportunities through December 22, with even more Moon launch options through June 2023.

These dates assume that the Space Launch System will go through a dress rehearsal that simulates fueling operations and resolve problems that required a rollback from the launch pad to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center on April 26.

Real-time updates: NASA Artemis 1 lunar mission
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Engineers are working to fix a hydrogen leak in the umbilical and found a damaged o-ring that has been replaced, NASA said in a May 13 blog post.

According to NASA, below is the full list of opportunities being considered for this exploratory mission to prepare for manned missions to the Moon in the late 2020s. All dates after 26 July to Aug. 10 are based on a preliminary analysis of the factors needed to launch a launch to and from the Moon and are subject to change. You can also download the complete NASA Artemis 1 calendar in PDF format.

Here’s a look at the launch windows left in 2022.

  • July 26 – Aug. 10:13 launch opportunities except August. 1, 2 and 6;
  • Aug. September 23 – 6: 12 launch opportunities excluding August. 30, 31 and 1 September;
  • September 20 – October 4: 14 launch opportunities except September 29;
  • Launch opportunities from October 17 to October 31:11, except October 24, 25, 26 and 28;
  • November 12 – November 27: 12 launch opportunities except November 20, 21 and 26;
  • December 9 – 23: 11 launch opportunities except December 10, 14, 18 and 23;

And here are the launch windows for Artemis flights in 2023.

  • Jan. 7-20: 10 launch opportunities except January. 10, 12, 13 and 14;
  • Feb. 3-5: 14 launch opportunities except February. ten;
  • March: 19 launch opportunities between March 1-17 and March 29-31, except March 11 and 18-28;
  • April: 14 launch opportunities between April 1-13 and April 26-30, except April 2, 3, 7, 9 and 14-25;
  • May: 14 launch opportunities between May 1-10 and May 26-31, except May 8 and May 11-25;
  • June: 13 launch opportunities from June 1-6, June 20 and June 24-30, except June 5, 7-19 and 21-23;

The NASA Artemis 1 mission mounted on the launch pad as seen from space from the Pléiades Neo satellite operated by the European aerospace company Airbus. (Image credit: Airbus)

“In addition to launch capabilities based on orbital mechanics and performance requirements, there are also operational limitations driven by infrastructure at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” NASA noted the launch dates when they were made public on May 16.

“Due to their size, the spherical tanks used to store cryogenic propellant at the launch site can only provide a limited number of launch attempts depending on the type of propellant,” the agency added. Basically, there are only three max launch attempts available in any given week due to the main stage filling process.

Because liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are loaded into the main stage and upper stage on launch day, engineers must wait 48 hours to make a second launch attempt. A third attempt must wait another 72 hours “due to the need to replenish the cryogenic storage sphere with more fuel from nearby sources,” NASA said.

NASA’s Orion space capsule, which will fly unmanned to the moon and back, before final pre-launch testing. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA has identified four major limitations when it comes to scheduling launch dates beyond fueling operations.

First, make sure the Moon is within range of the upper stage of the massive SLS rocket, which will perform a translunar injection to propel the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. Orion will then fly in a distant retrograde orbit. (Retrograde means it will orbit the Moon in the opposite direction to that of the Moon.)

The second limitation is that Orion’s solar arrays should not be in the sun for more than 90 minutes so that the spacecraft has enough electricity to operate and maintain a normal temperature range. Orbital dynamics specialists must take into account the positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun (which pull the spacecraft with their gravity), as well as the “state of charge” of the battery, in order to correctly calculate this.

NASA is sending a dummy to its Artemis 1 mission to collect data on how astronauts will experience flying around the moon. It is called “Commander Munikin Campos” after Arturo Campos, who helped bring Apollo 13 back to Earth safely in 1970. (Image credit: NASA)

The third limitation is that Orion can perform an “entry pass” when returning to Earth, which is only allowed on certain launch dates. Orion will use the upper part of the Earth’s atmosphere, along with its inherent lift, to slow down slightly by intentionally temporarily jumping out of the atmosphere. It will then re-enter for the final descent and splashdown.

“This method allows engineers to accurately determine the location of the Orion splashdown and, on future missions, will help reduce [gravity] loads that astronauts will experience inside the spacecraft and maintain the structural loads of the spacecraft within design limits,” NASA said.

Finally, the Orion should be launched at a time when daylight recovery conditions after splashdown help recovery operations. This will be especially important when there are people on board.

The launch date of the mission will also determine how long Orion stays in space. The mission will last either 26 to 28 days or 38 to 42 days.

“The duration of the mission varies, completing either a half circle or 1.5 circles around the Moon in a deep retrograde orbit before returning to Earth,” NASA said.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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