NASA’s Artemis launch date now scheduled for November nighttime liftoff

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VIERA, Fla. — NASA is targeting mid-November for its next launch attempt of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule for the debut Artemis I mission around the moon and back.

Liftoff is set for Nov. 14at 12:07 a.m. ET — a deviation from the previous two liftoff attempts scheduled during daylight. 

The agency has also requested backup nighttime launch opportunities for Nov. 16 and Nov. 19.

Launching during any of these windows, however, depends on getting the 322-foot rocket stacked with an uncrewed Orion capsule back to the Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39B to complete a slew of pre-launch procedures.

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NASA decided late September to return the SLS to the Vehicle Assembly Building for refuge from Hurricane Ian.

While the rocket remains there, teams still have to “perform standard maintenance to repair minor damage to the foam and cork on the thermal protection system and recharge or replace batteries on the rocket, several secondary payloads and the flight termination system,” the agency said Wednesday.

The flight termination system, designed to destroy the rocket in the event of an emergency, is certified by the Space Force. The agency responsible for public safety will need to sign off on the system’s batteries before the SLS once again sets off on its path to launch.

If those activities are completed in time, the rollout could take place as early as Nov. 4.

Two previous attempts to launch the Artemis I mission in late August and early September were called off because of technical issues. First, a faulty engine sensor, then a significant hydrogen leak that hindered the completion of fueling. 

Since then, NASA has completed repairs and conducted a fueling test of the rocket while it remained at the launch pad before taking safety from the storm.

Liftoff on Nov. 14 would occur during a window that extends for just 69 minutes. The backup opportunities on Nov. 16 and 19 offer a two-hour launch window and more wiggle room for NASA to mitigate any issues that may arise during the countdown.

A Nov. 14 liftoff would result in a short duration Artemis I mission lasting just 25.5 days. Previous launch attempts positioned Artemis I for an extended mission of around 43 days. 

Artemis I is the first step of the agency’s campaign to return humans to the lunar surface and one day enable a more permanent presence there before moving on to Mars.

If all proceeds as planned for a mid-November launch, the Orion spacecraft can be expected to return for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California sometime in mid-December. 

Artemis II will do the same but with astronauts, while Artemis III, expected sometime before 2030, aims to deliver at least two astronauts to the moon’s surface.