Artemis 1, ispace lander set November launch dates

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Artemis 1 mission and a Japanese lander are set to launch to the moon from Florida within days in November.

NASA announced on October 12 that it has scheduled the launch of the Artemis 1 mission for November 14 from the Kennedy Space Center. The launch will take place during a 69-minute window that opens at 12:07 AM. east. Backup boot windows are available on November 16 at 1:04 AM. eastern and on Nov. 19 at 1:45 a.m. east, lasting two hours each.

The agency said inspections of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft after they returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building on Sept. 27 found “minimal work” needed to prepare them for another launch attempt. This work includes repairing minor damage to the missile’s thermal protection system from previous launch attempts and tests, as well as replacing or recharging batteries for the missile’s flight termination system. NASA expects to have the vehicle ready to return to Launch Complex 39B as early as November 4.

NASA stowed the rocket back in the VAB to protect it from Hurricane Ian as the storm moved through Florida. That ruled out launch opportunities in late September and early October, and the reset meant NASA couldn’t try again during a launch season that opened up in the second half of October.

New launch opportunities are approaching the start of the next release period. NASA is moving forward with these opportunities even though it is night. Service officials earlier suggested they preferred to launch during the day for improved tracking of the SLS on its maiden flight, but that would require waiting until at least Nov. 22, the second half of the launch period.

The new launch date for Artemis 1 means it is now scheduled to launch within days of a commercial lunar landing mission. Japanese company ispace announced on October 12 that it plans to launch its first HAKUTO-R on a Falcon 9 between November 9 and 15 from Cape Canaveral.

The M1 aircraft completed testing last month at a facility in Germany and is being prepared for shipment to the launch site. The aircraft is carrying various payloads, including a small lunar rover called Rashid developed by the United Arab Emirates.

“For me this is a milestone on the road to realizing our vision, but I am already proud of our results,” said Takeshi Hakamada, CEO of ispace. “I look forward to watching the launch with all of our employees and those who have supported us.”

That timeline puts ispace ahead of two American companies that are also preparing lunar landers for launch. Both Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines had planned to launch their first landing missions before the end of the year, carrying payloads that included those provided by NASA through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. However, Intuitive Machines said in the summer that the Falcon 9 launch of its IM-1 mission would slip to early 2023.

Astrobotic, flying on United Launch Alliance’s inaugural Vulcan Centaur mission, had launched in 2022 until Oct. 10, when ULA announced it was delaying the launch to the first quarter of 2023 to give Astrobotic more time to complete the her landing. It was not clear that Vulcan itself would be ready to launch this year due to delays in the delivery of the BE-4 engines powering its first stage.

In an Oct. 10 statement, John Thornton, Astrobotic’s chief executive, said his company would release more details about launch plans in the near future, but noted that the grounded aircraft recently returned to the company’s headquarters in Pittsburgh after completion of the pressure test of the System’s propulsion.

“We are now proceeding with the final assembly of the spacecraft which includes the installation of the solar panel along with avionics, sensors, communications equipment and payloads, which are already tested and integrated into their respective decks,” he said. “As Peregrine begins its journey to the Moon in early 2023, it will be an incredible achievement for Astrobotic, the city of Pittsburgh and the space industry as a whole.”

Tokyo-based ispace is not directly part of the CLPS program. However, its US office is part of a team led by Draper that won the CLPS award in July for a far-side lunar landing mission scheduled to launch in 2025.

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