NASA officials announced Wednesday that NASA is shifting the critical dress rehearsal countdown to March and the fueling test for NASA’s huge new Space Launch System moon launch rocket from later in the month to March to allow engineers more time to finish final preparations. This delay will likely mean that the rocket’s maiden flight will be in April, if not earlier.

During a conference call with reporters, Tom Whitmeyer (deputy chief of NASA’s exploration departmentate) declined to give a target date for the SLS rocket’s long-awaited first flight. He stated that engineers must go through the “wet dressing rehearsal” first.

Sources suggest that rollout to pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center could occur as early as March 8. Whitmeyer said that the two-week test could be completed as early as March 8. The May 7-May 21 launch period is the next.

Mike Bolger, Kennedy Space Center’s manager of exploration ground system, explained that March was delayed due to “not a significant thing we’re working on”. He said that it was just a volume work and that it was us being very meticulous in making sure we are ready for when we roll.

He stated that the Chairman of NASA’s Aerospace Advisory Panel, said during a recent meeting that “if your launch date is missed and you have a successful landing, nobody will ever remember that you missed it.” If you miss your launch date, but you launch successfully, no one will ever forget.

Bolger stated, “I believe that’s exactly the way we treat it.” “We are finding the right balance between continuing to push for it to get there. Artemis 1 is NASA’s first moon rocket flight. This mission will test the SLS booster, Orion capsule, and the SLS booster in flight, before the astronauts take off for a piloted trip around the moon in 2024.

Artemis 3, the flight that follows, will be the first to carry a woman and a person of color to the Moon in 2025. The astronauts will rendezvous with a SpaceX landing craft and descend to the lunar south pole, where they will become the first humans on the moon.

NASA must first perform complex tests to confirm the performance of the SLS, Orion spacecraft, and ground systems necessary for servicing and launch.

SLS’s initial “block 1” launch will be the largest rocket ever launched. It stands 322 feet tall, and weighs in at 5.75 millions pounds once fully fuelled. The rocket’s twin solid-propellant boosters from the shuttle heritage and four upgraded main engines for the space shuttle will generate 8.8 million pounds thrust at liftoff. This is 15% more than NASA’s famous Saturn 5 moon rocket.

It is also the most expensive rocket ever built. NASA’s Office of Inspector General estimated last year that NASA would have spent almost $30 billion on the SLS program by 2025. Each of the four Artemis moon missions will cost around $4.1 billion.

Block 1 SLS consists of a massive 212-foot-tall Boeing-managed “core” stage with four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 main engine and a 45 foot-tall interim upperstage powered by one Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B.

Attached to the side of core stage are two Northrop Grumman solid rocket boosters of five-segment each that produce 3.6 million pounds thrust each.

NASA converted pad 39B to Artemis operations by tearing down a shuttle era gantry, rotating service structure, and erecting new lightning Towers. They also upgraded a water deluge system that minimizes heating and the acoustic shock from booster ignition.

An old mobile launch platform that was used to transport shuttles to the pad was converted to Artemis. It now includes a 355-foot-tall service Gantry that will roll to Artemis with the rocket. This will provide crew access arms, data, propellant feeds, and power through multiple rotating umbilicals.

The first SLS will be taken to pad 39B for the wet dress rehearsal. The core stage will contain 730,000 gallons supercold liquid oxygen, hydrogen rocket fuel and other materials.

As the countdown ticks down to the last 10 seconds of launch day, flow rates, pressures, and temperatures will all be monitored.

Bolger stated, “When you think of wet dress it’s really getting together the launch team, running through a complete vehicle tanking, then draining the vehicle and doing all this in the same environment as what we have on launch day.” It’s a dress rehearsal for all the team.

After the two-day dress rehearsal, the SLS will then be taken back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to undergo inspections and to fix any problems discovered during the tanking test. To prepare for launch, the rocket will then be taken back to pad 39B.