NASA’s next-generation Artemis moon rocket gets ready for first launch

Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sept. 3 (Reuters) – On Saturday, the Kennedy Space Center ground team began fueling NASA’s giant next-generation rocket spacecraft for the first time five days after its first test flight. emission. Blocked by technical issues.

The 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion capsule will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 2:17 p.m. ET (1817 GMT), kick-starting the U.S. The space agency’s ambitious Moon-to-Mars Artemis program comes 50 years after the last Apollo mission to the moon. (Picture: https://tmsnrt.rs/3PPRsbN)

Launch bids until Monday were halted due to engineering issues. NASA says technicians have addressed those issues.

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Weather is another factor beyond NASA’s control. There’s a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions during Saturday’s two-hour window, according to the latest forecast from the Cape Canaveral-based U.S. Space Force.

Before dawn, the launch team began the long and delicate process of filling the rocket’s core-stage fuel tanks with hundreds of thousands of gallons of supercooled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants.

Engineers stopped loading liquid hydrogen around 7:30 a.m., in a complex process that took about an hour to fix the leak.

If the countdown stops again, NASA could reschedule another launch attempt on Monday or Tuesday.

Dubbed Artemis I, the mission marks the maiden flight of the SLS rocket and Orion capsule, the two capsules under NASA’s partnership with Boeing Co (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), respectively. contract build.

It also marks a major change in the direction of NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program, after decades of focusing on low-Earth orbit for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Artemis, named after the goddess of the Apollo twin sisters in ancient Greek mythology, aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2025, although many experts believe the time frame could be earlier.

From 1969 to 1972, 12 astronauts walked on the moon on six Apollo missions, the only spaceflight to date to put humans on the lunar surface. But Apollo, born out of the U.S.-Soviet space race during the Cold War, was not driven by science like Artemis.

Project Crescent has enlisted commercial partners such as SpaceX and space agencies in Europe, Canada and Japan to eventually establish a long-term lunar operating base as a stepping stone to more ambitious human voyages to Mars.

space flight stress test

Getting the SLS-Orion spacecraft off the ground is a critical first step. Its maiden voyage was designed to push the 5.75-million-pound vehicle through its paces in a rigorous test flight to push the limits of its design and to prove the spacecraft is fit to fly astronauts.

If the mission is successful, a manned Artemis II flight around the moon could arrive as early as 2024, and within a few years, the program will land the first astronauts from Artemis III, one of whom is female.

Billed as the most powerful and complex rocket in the world, the SLS represents the largest new vertical launch system NASA has built since the Apollo-era Saturn V.

Barring last-minute difficulties, Saturday’s countdown should end with the firing of the rocket’s four main RS-25 engines and their twin solid rocket boosters, producing 8.8 million pounds of thrust, about 15 percent more than the Saturn V. %, making the spacecraft soar into the sky.

About 90 minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stages will push Orion out of Earth’s orbit for a 37-day flight that will bring it within 60 miles of the lunar surface, before driving 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) beyond the moon and back to Earth . The capsule is expected to splash in the Pacific Ocean on October 11.

While there will be no humans on board, Orion will carry a simulated crew of three — a male and two female mannequins — equipped with sensors to measure radiation and other stressors that astronauts would experience in real life.

The spacecraft will also release a payload of 10 small science satellites, called CubeSats, one of which is designed to map the rich ice deposits at the moon’s south pole.

The mission’s overarching goal is to test the durability of the Orion heat shield during reentry as it slams into Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 mph (39,429 km/h) or 32 times the speed of sound on return from lunar orbit – far faster Re-entry for the more common capsule returning from Earth orbit.

The heat shield is designed to withstand the friction of re-entry, which is expected to raise the temperature outside the capsule to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).

The SLS-Orion spacecraft has been in development for more than a decade, and after years of delays and budget overruns, has cost NASA at least $37 billion to date. NASA’s Office of Inspector General expects the total cost of Artemis to reach $93 billion by 2025.

NASA defends the program as a boon for space exploration, creating tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in business.

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Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, FL and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Frances Kerry

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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