It looks like old times — the good kind — at KSC, as the recent spike in activity at the Vehicle Assembly Building is reminiscent of the Shuttle era. This time, it’s the stacking of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule that has the high-bays humming as NASA’s own human-rated, heavy-lift vehicle is prepped for a full-up launch. It’s been a long time coming: Artemis I, aiming to send an Orion capsule to the Moon and back.
NASA is saying the flight will commence at Launch Complex 39 no earlier than February 2022, assuming the full-up integration and testing goes as planned. Once more, the Mobile Launch Platform, its massive crawler and Pad 39B will be brought together as the jumping-off point for deep-space flights. Then we’ll cross our fingers as fit-checks are performed, test fueling of the core is conducted and confidence is achieved that vehicle is ready to go.
When Artemis I and the SLS fire-up, we will witness four flight-proven RS-25 main engines — coupled with a pair of solid rocket boosters evolved from Shuttle-times — loft a human-ready spacecraft beyond Earth orbit for the first time since 1972.
While the cadence of SLS launches will not match the pace of Saturn V or Shuttle era flights, Artemis 1 is the harbinger of possibilities to come: deep-space flights, exploration at local LaGrange points and beyond, and the ability to lift the equipment necessary to build complex, multi-component vehicles for extended human spaceflight and stays on the Moon. How SLS might be supplemented by or paired with the capabilities of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Starship are to be determined. But the prospects are exciting and the skies will be the limit no more beginning in 2022. Stay tuned.