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NASA's Artemis 1 moon megarocket faces final test before rolling out for launch

NASA's Artemis 1 Space Launch System moon rocket emerging from the massive Vehicle Assembly Building at night under bright lights.
NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket, the first Space Launch System booster, rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 6, 2022. The rocket will head to its Launch Pad 39B on Aug. 18 for an Aug. 29 launch attempt. (Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

Engineers are testing a system designed to destroy NASA's massive Space Launch System moon rocket in case of problems with its impending launch.

Last week, NASA worked to certify the critical flight termination system (FTS) on the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, which marks the final test before the megarocket rolls out to the pad later on Tuesday night (Aug. 16)  Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, according to a NASA update (opens in new tab).

The FTS test is required by Space Launch Delta 45, a U.S. Space Force unit that operates the Eastern Range (opens in new tab). The system would be used to terminate the flight if necessary for safety reasons.

Related: How to watch NASA's Artemis 1 moon megarocket roll out this week

The Space Launch System rocket is due to send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the moon and back on what is the Artemis 1 mission. The first launch window is scheduled for Aug. 29. Backup launch windows are set for Sept. 2 and 5. N

Artemis 1 is an uncrewed test flight designed to test the Orion space capsule and SLS rocket for eventual crewed flights to the moon. If all goes well, NASA will follow it with a crewed Artemis 2 flight around the moon in 2024 and the crewed Artemis 3 moon landing mission around 2025, agency officials have said. The project is part of NASA's Artemis program to return humans to the moon and eventually aim for Mars.

But first, the Artemis 1 SLS needs to complete its FTS certification so it can launch. NASA received an extension from Space Launch Delta 45 on Aug. 12 for the certification of the FTS to cover 25 days instead of 20.  This means the FTS certification—required by the Eastern Range to be tested 15 days before launch—will now also cover the Sept. 5 window. 

Without the extension the rocket would have needed to be rolled back to the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) to recertify the FTS, ending the launch campaign. After FTS testing is completed teams will complete final closeouts on SLS and Orion before it rolls out of the VAB. 

The SLS rocket is set to roll out to its pad on Tuesday (Aug. 16), which you'll be able to watch online for free on this page, as well as via NASA's website (opens in new tab), NASA TV and the NASA app (opens in new tab)

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).