Oct 22, 2021 - Science

Debut flight of NASA's next big rocket delayed until 2022

An Orion capsule stacked atop a Space Launch System rocket.

The Orion capsule being stacked atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo: NASA/Frank Michaux

NASA's Space Launch System rocket won't make its first flight until early next year, the agency announced today.

Why it matters: The SLS is a key piece of technology needed to bring NASA astronauts back to the surface of the Moon in the coming years, and this first flight will mark a major milestone for the program.

Driving the news: NASA announced Friday that the rocket won't make its first flight — called Artemis 1 — until early 2022, delaying the debut, which had been expected this year.

  • The SLS could take flight as soon as February, depending on how a dress rehearsal of the launch goes in January, as well as other testing.
  • There are also potential launch windows in March and April.
  • "We've conducted a series of simulated missions, and I can promise you that we are on track to fly. This team will be ready when our flight hardware is ready," Mike Sarafin, the mission’s manager, said during a press conference.

How it works: The SLS will take flight for its first launch with an uncrewed Orion capsule atop it.

  • The rocket will send the capsule on a journey around the Moon and back to Earth, giving it a full test run before a crewed launch can take place, expected to occur in 2023.
  • The first human landing on the Moon as part of the Artemis is expected to happen in 2024.

Yes but: It's not clear that NASA will be able to meet that 2024 deadline.

  • At the moment, the spacesuits needed for that landing are behind schedule, according to a report.
  • The agency is also caught up in a lawsuit brought by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin protesting NASA's decision to award a contract to SpaceX to build a lander that will bring astronauts to the lunar surface.
  • Resolving that lawsuit could take time and might delay that 2024 landing even more.

Go deeper: Tune in to Axios on HBO on Sunday, Oct. 24, at 6 p.m. ET/PT to catch an interview with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson where he discusses Artemis. Watch on HBO and HBO Max.

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