NASA hopes to launch the most powerful rocket ever launched by the end of August. Let’s take a look at the Space Launch System (SLS), what to set all the important launch dates, and how to watch the science supermissile take off for free.
The SLS is a truly scary rocket.
When fully stacked with the Orion crew capsule, it stands about 320 feet tall (equivalent to 33 ladies Dimitrezcus) and creates an impressive loneliness on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center figure.
Its first stage – which makes up the body of the rocket – is powered by four refurbished RS-25 space shuttle-era engines, complemented by two massive solid-fuel strapped boosters, which together are capable of producing a staggering 880 million pounds of thrust. emission. For context, the Saturn V rocket that sent astronauts to the moon in the 1960s/70s produced only 7.5 million pounds of thrust.
The upper part of the SLS also houses an engine specifically designed to provide the rocket’s payload, including its crew module, with the final push needed to exit low-Earth orbit and place it in orbit to rendezvous with the moon.
In the coming years, NASA and its partners hope to use this power to help with its ambitious mission to return astronauts to the moon as part of the Artemis program. NASA’s primary goal with Artemis will be to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon, where humans can explore the surface of Earth’s natural satellite, while developing the technology needed to safely send humans to Mars.
This ambitious plan entails moving vast resources out of Earth’s atmosphere and into lunar orbit, which is where the SLS’ impressive lift capabilities come into play.
However, despite billions of dollars and more than a decade of planning, there’s no guarantee that the rocket’s first launch will be a success. The development of the SLS is a huge engineering and scientific challenge, and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Testing of many of the rocket’s components prior to launch raises a number of design issues that must be resolved before NASA can consider putting them into service.
Numerous setbacks have delayed the rocket’s first launch from its ambitious 2017 goal until August 2022. This is a huge delay. In addition, according to CNBC, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin estimated in a meeting with Congress earlier this year that each SLS launch could cost as much as $4.1 billion. That exceeds the entire life-cycle cost of the 20-year Cassini mission.
In short, it would be very, very embarrassing if NASA’s extremely expensive, long-awaited and untested rocket suffered a catastrophic failure during its maiden flight.
The stakes are high
The stakes are high, and NASA revealed last month that it will attempt to launch its first SLS rocket — complete with an uncrewed Orion capsule — as early as Aug. 29 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
If all goes well, SLS will catapult the crew module, along with its European-built service module, into space on an ambitious 38- to 42-day test mission called Artemis 1.
On its ascent through Earth’s atmosphere, the launch vehicle and its precious Orion payload will be subject to extreme temperatures, vibrations and other damaging stresses.
The capsule would then be forced to survive in the frigid space environment for weeks on end as it traveled 280,000 miles from Earth — farther than any spacecraft suitable for crewed flight — and eventually braved a fiery re-entry.
This challenge will test the performance of the SLS and gauge whether Orion is worthy of a manned entry into lunar orbit and eventual safe return to Earth.
NASA’s Super Heavy Lunar Rocket – Space Launch System
However, a range of factors, ranging from mundane to technical, could prevent the rocket from launching within the two-hour window on Aug. 29. For example, bad weather could easily disrupt a launch, or unforeseen safety issues could arise. Last-minute technical issues discovered during pre-launch inspections could also ruin the day of many scientists.
In light of this, NASA has announced a series of alternate launch windows, one on September 2 and the other on September 5. If, due to a series of unfortunate events, the rocket is still on Earth after these dates, The agency then prepared more dates, running in two weeks, with the outbreak in two weeks, stretching all the way to Dec. 23.
These dates were chosen with a lot of planning, not only for the rocket but also for the safety of the Orion capsule, which will be the focus of much of the multi-week mission.
For example, the launch can only take place when the Earth and Moon are in the correct position relative to each other to initiate the transfer burn needed to place the capsule in the far lunar orbit needed for the mission.
Mission planners also need to calculate the launch date — and therefore the trajectory — that will allow the spacecraft to avoid falling into the moon or Earth’s shadow for more than 90 minutes at a time. This is critical because the Orion spacecraft’s solar panels need to be bathed in sunlight to generate electricity and provide a livable environment for future crew members.
The flight also had to be planned in such a way that the capsule would briefly dip into Earth’s atmosphere on return to slow it down before ascending back into space, like a rock jumping over a lake.
This peculiar fall reduces the heat buildup upon re-entry and reduces the gravity experienced by the Orion crew. It also allows NASA to more accurately predict where the capsule will splash down off the coast of San Diego.
NASA took all of these criteria into consideration when choosing August 29 at 8:33 a.m. ET as the start of the first launch window.
While it hasn’t been announced, NASA is sure to live stream the historic launch and subsequent coverage of the Artemis mission on its streaming channel, NASA TV.. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy a live view of Earth captured from the ISS shell, courtesy of the ISS HD Earth Observation Experiment.
Anthony Wood is a freelance writer for IGN.