The crucial test, known as a wet dress rehearsal, simulates each stage of a launch without the rocket leaving the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This process includes loading ultra-cold propellant, going through a full launch-simulating countdown, resetting the countdown clock, and emptying the rocket’s tanks.
The results of the wet dress rehearsal will determine when the uncrewed Artemis I will embark on a mission that will leave the Moon and return to Earth. This mission will kick-start NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the Moon and land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface by 2025.
Three previous attempts at a wet dress rehearsal in April were unsuccessful and ended before the rocket could be fully loaded with propellant due to various leaks that NASA said have since been fixed.
Dress rehearsal: what to expect
Rocket Artemis will kick off its next attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on Saturday at 5:00 pm ET. with the “call at the station” when all teams associated with the mission announce that they are ready for the start of the test.
Weekend preparations will set up the Artemis team to begin loading fuel into the rocket’s main and upper stages on Monday, June 20.
The two-hour test window will begin in the afternoon, with the Artemis team targeting the first countdown at 2:40 pm ET.
They will first count down to 33 seconds before starting, then stop the cycle. The clock will be reset, then the countdown will restart again and run for up to about 10 seconds before starting.
Previous wetsuit rehearsal attempts have already completed many of the tasks on the rocket launch checklist, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director for NASA’s Ground Systems Science Program, said during a news conference on Wednesday.
“This time we hope to do away with them and complete cryogenic loading operations along with terminal counting,” she said. “Our team is ready to go and we look forward to returning to this test.”
Once the Artemis rocket complex has completed its dress rehearsal, it will return to the space center’s vehicle assembly building to await launch day.
There is a long history behind the arduous process of testing new systems before a rocket launch, and what the Artemis team is facing is similar to what the Apollo and shuttle era teams experienced, including multiple test attempts and pre-launch delays.
“There is not a single person on the team who shirks the responsibility that we must manage ourselves and our contractors and deliver and deliver facilities that meet these flight test objectives for the (Artemis I) and meet the objectives of the Artemis I program,” said Jim Free, Associate Administrator, NASA Research Systems Development Mission Office, during a press conference.