NASA moves SLS lunar rocket launch back to launch pad

NASA moves SLS lunar rocket launch back to launch pad

NASA’s $4.1 billion Space Launch System lunar rocket was hauled out of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building on Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a 4.2-mile overnight trip to block 39B, setting the stage for a long-awaited maiden flight to send an unmanned plane. The deep space crew ship Orion on a trip around the moon.

A mighty Apollo-era crawler carrier, carrying the 3.5 million-pound, 322-foot-tall SLS rocket, and its 10.5 million-pound mobile launch pad, began to roll out of the Kennedy Space Center’s cavernous VAB. at 9:55 pm EDT, cheered by hundreds of spaceport workers and family members.

The 322-foot-tall Space Launch System lunar rocket slowly moves out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center for the 4.2-mile journey to Launch Pad 39B, laying the groundwork for liftoff in August 29 on the maiden flight of the thruster.  / Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

The 322-foot-tall Space Launch System lunar rocket slowly moves out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center for the 4.2-mile journey to Launch Pad 39B, laying the groundwork for liftoff in August 29 on the maiden flight of the thruster. / Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

The launch started about an hour late because of nearby thunderstorms, but the trip was expected to complete around 7am on Wednesday. Once the mobile launcher is lowered onto pedestals at the top of the platform, engineers will connect power, data, propellant lines, water lines and other systems to prepare the rocket for exhaustive pre-launch testing and verification.

If all goes well, the team will begin a 46-hour, 10-minute countdown at 10:23 am EDT Aug. a day to send an unmanned Orion crew capsule around the moon and back.

Backup launch opportunities, based on the ever-changing positions of the Earth and Moon, along with the need to replenish the spaceport’s thruster supplies, are available on September 2 and 5. After that, NASA would have to transport the SLS back to the VAB for service batteries and other systems, delaying the launch to later this fall.

The purpose of the Artemis 1 mission is to verify the performance of the SLS, test the solar-powered Orion crew capsule in deep space, and confirm that its 16.5-foot-wide heat shield will protect the spacecraft during a hellish high-speed dive. back to Earth’s atmosphere. at the end of the flight.

Assuming a point launch, the Orion capsule will target the Pacific Ocean dive west of San Diego at 11:53 am EDT on October 10.

If the test flight goes well, NASA plans to launch four astronauts on the second flight of the SLS rocket in 2024 – Artemis 2 – followed by a third mission that will send the first woman and the next man to the surface of the moon in 2025-26. .

The Space Launch System lunar rocket atop platform 39B at Kennedy Space Center for a dress rehearsal countdown and supply test earlier this year.  NASA plans to return the rocket to the platform overnight on Tuesday to prepare the massive thruster for its maiden launch on August 29.  / Credit: NASA file photo

The Space Launch System lunar rocket atop platform 39B at Kennedy Space Center for a dress rehearsal countdown and supply test earlier this year. NASA plans to return the rocket to the platform overnight on Tuesday to prepare the massive thruster for its maiden launch on August 29. / Credit: NASA file photo

The SLS is the world’s most powerful operational rocket, using two solid-fuel thrusters inherited from the Space Shuttle and four upgraded RS-25 engines from the Space Shuttle era to generate a combined lift-off thrust of 8.8 million pounds, 15% more than the legendary from NASA. Saturn 5 moon rocket.

In its initial “block 1” configuration, the SLS is capable of propelling nearly 30 tons to the moon. The planned variants, using a more powerful upper stage and advanced boosters, will be able to send nearly 50 tons to the moon in a single flight.

SpaceX is building a bigger, more powerful Rocke Super Heavy-Starship at twice that capacity, but it can’t do it in a single flight. The reusable craft is designed to be refueled in Earth orbit before departing for deep space.

NASA conducted a full-duration fire test of the main stage of the Boeing-built SLS and its four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi last year. The booster was then shipped to Florida, where the second stage rocket, provided by the United Launch Alliance, and the Orion capsule, built by Lockheed Martin, were attached.

Engineers performed four dress rehearsal countdowns to clear the way for launch, but tests were hampered by ground system problems, a stuck helium valve and two problematic hydrogen leaks, one where the main fuel line connects to the main fuel line. base of the main stage and another in a smaller socket used to help cool the main engines.

Hydrogen leaks are notoriously difficult to isolate and fix because they only appear when ultra-cold propellant is flowing through the lines and connections. Repairs must be carried out at room temperature.

Engineers successfully repaired the umbilical fitting, which functioned normally during a subsequent fill test. But the main engine “bleed” line, repaired in the VAB after the most recent countdown trial, has yet to be retested in cryogenic conditions. That won’t happen until the SLS is stocked for launch on August 29th.

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