Artemis 1 rolls to pad; Next up: Wet dress rehearsal

The Artemis 1 Space Launch System rocket at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B on the morning of March 18, 2022. Credit: Scott Johnson/Spaceflight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — On March 17, NASA rolled its Artemis 1 Space Launch System rocket out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and 4.2 miles to Launch Complex 39B. The roll to the pad is for an early-April wet dress rehearsal, in anticipation of a summer 2022 launch.

First Rollout

Spaceflight Insider was on hand at KSC for the rollout which began at 5:47 pm EDT March 17, 2022, took nearly 11 hours, and resulted in the vehicle being “hard down” on the pad around 4:30 am EDT March 18.

The Artemis 1 vehicle itself is a Block 1 SLS rocket, which is 322 feet (98 meters) tall, and weighs in at 3.5 million pounds (1.6 million kilograms).

During the roll (as it will for launch), the rocket sat atop Mobile Launcher 1, which is approximately 400 feet (122 meters) tall, and weighs nearly 11.3 million pounds (5.1 million kilograms).

The Artemis 1 SLS rocket rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Credit: Theresa Cross/Spaceflight Insider

The Artemis 1 SLS rocket rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Theresa Cross/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Theresa Cross/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Theresa Cross/Spaceflight Insider

The rocket and ML-1 were carried to the pad on the 6.65-million-pound (3-million-kilogram) crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) — powered by two diesel engines, two AC generators, and 16 traction motors.

Both ML-1 and CT-2 are Apollo-era infrastructure built for the Saturn V, which have been upgraded and modified for use with Artemis and SLS.

The March 17-18 event was the first VAB rollout of a new launch vehicle since Ares-IX in 2009, and the first VAB rollout of any launch vehicle since space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) in 2011.

Asked about his thoughts on the rollout, Chris Ciancola, SLS Deputy program manager, said, “It’s really awesome. What gets me, from my standpoint, is I’ve planned for this day and trying to get here for a long time. I’m good. I’ve been seeing the work volume working its way down to this level, so I’m like, cool, calm and relaxed, cause I know we’re in great shape. But when I get out in the community, and everybody around that I work with, that haven’t been down here, they’re just pumped and excited. I feel like I’m at the end of a marathon.”

“I would doubt that there’s somebody out there that is not excited about this, because, again, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a vehicle roll out of the VAB,” said Jose Perez Morales, NASA Exploration Ground Systems senior project manager. “I mean, we took the mobile launcher, that’s very exciting, but it’s not as [exciting as] you seeing the whole vehicle moving out like back in the Apollo days, when you saw the first Apollo coming out of that Bay. That’s how it’s going to feel … This is a vehicle almost as big as Apollo, and it’s going to be even more powerful than Apollo.”

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Wet Dress Rehearsal

The purpose of the March 17-18 rollout was to get the rocket to the launch pad for a series of tests and checks culminating in a simulated launch countdown — called a wet dress rehearsal due to the vehicle actually being filled with the “wet” liquid hydrogen propellant and liquid oxygen oxidizer needed for flight. As of right now, that test is expected between April 1 and April 3.

As SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt explained a few weeks ago: “The reason we test is to learn, but the next step in the learning is going to be when we roll out to the pad, around March 17, and we get to that Wet Dress Rehearsal in early April.”

“We’ll get it out to the launch pad, and we’ll get it inspected, and we’ll get all the electrical connections, fluid connections, hooked up, and then we’ll go through a series of tests,” Honeycutt said.

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Michael McCabe/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Theresa Cross/Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Theresa Cross/Spaceflight Insider

“We’ll be checking out the functionality of the software systems on the rocket, and how they interface with the ground,” Honeycutt said. “And we’ll basically just do everything from starting the countdown, going through the various holds, probably working through, hopefully not, but probably we’ll probably get to work through some minor technical issues, and then we’ll run all the way down to just right before we go to start the RS-25’s, and that’ll culminate the test.”

Flight test

Once the wet dress rehearsal is complete, the rocket will be rolled back to the VAB, where any problems will be worked, prior to being rolled back to the pad for a summer 2022 launch of an uncrewed test flight around the moon.

Video courtesy of Orbital Velocity

Tagged: Artemis 1 Artemis program Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39B Lead Stories NASA Orion Space Launch System

Scott Johnson

Scott earned both a Bachelor’s Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS – 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares IX, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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