NASA begins final preparations for maiden flight of .1 billion SLS rocket

NASA begins final preparations for maiden flight of $4.1 billion SLS rocket

With a week to go before launch, mission managers met on Monday to review preparations for the maiden unmanned flight of NASA’s massive $4.1 billion Space Launch System rocket, a 322-foot behemoth. height that the agency is counting on to return American astronauts to the moon.

Assuming there are no unforeseen issues, managers are expected to give the launch team authorization to advance to the start of a 46-hour 10-minute countdown at 10:23 am EDT Saturday, laying the groundwork for liftoff at 8:33 am Monday. Monday, the opening of a two-hour window.

“I’m honored to participate in the @NASAArtemis flight readiness review today,” tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s director of space science. “Many years in the making, thousands of individuals doing their best – we are approaching this important milestone.”

The SLS is the most powerful operational rocket in the world, eclipsing the legendary Saturn 5 rocket that propelled the Apollo astronauts to the moon.

Generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust from two extended solid fuel thrusters and four upgraded Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines, the 5.5 million pound SLS rocket is expected to reach 160 km/h – in a straight line – in about seven seconds, putting it down – a tremendous spectacle for thousands of spaceport workers, area residents and tourists.

If all goes well, the Boeing-built main stage, Northrop Grumman thrusters and an upper stage provided by the United Launch Alliance will propel an Orion crew capsule around the moon and back. The 42-day mission is expected to end with a dip in the Pacific Ocean west of San Diego on October 10th.

The Space Launch System lunar rocket atop platform 39B at Kennedy Space Center.  / Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

The Space Launch System lunar rocket atop platform 39B at Kennedy Space Center. / Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

The Artemis 1 mission’s top priority is to test the Lockheed Martin-built capsule’s 16.5-foot-wide heat shield and its ability to protect the craft when it hits the atmosphere on October 10 at about 25,000 mph, withstanding temperatures of up to 25,000 mph. up to 5,000 degrees before a parachute descent to splashdown.

The successful launch of the SLS is built into this priority because it is the rocket that will provide the energy to propel the Orion capsule beyond the moon to set up this fiery, high-speed reentry.

Years late and billions over budget, the rocket’s inaugural launch is a long-awaited milestone, but the timing is critical. Based on the ever-changing positions of the Earth and Moon and the requirements of Orion’s planned trajectory, NASA has a very limited number of launch opportunities within a given period.

If the SLS rocket cannot take off next Monday, the launch team will only have two other opportunities, on September 2nd and 5th, before the end of the current launch period and a trip back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. to work to service self-destruct system batteries and other systems.

The next launch period starts on September 19 and ends on October 4, but it is doubtful that the rocket can be returned to the platform in time for a countdown and launch attempt. More likely, NASA would be forced to point to the launch period after that, which starts October 17 and runs through October 31.

Mission managers are hopeful it won’t come to that, and launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the first woman to serve in that position, says she’s confident her team is up to the challenge, weather permitting.

“I think we’ve done all the things you can do to be ready,” she said in an interview with CBS News. “The flight hardware, it tells you when it’s ready to fly… I think it’s ready. But on launch day, I’ll know.”

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