NASA prepares giant moon rocket for maiden flight

NASA prepares giant moon rocket for maiden flight


The Space Launch System is a new rocket for a new era of lunar exploration

The US space agency NASA has launched its new giant lunar rocket to prepare it for a maiden flight.

Known as the Space Launch System (SLS), the vehicle was transferred to Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of scheduled liftoff on August 29.

The debut tour is a test run without a crew on board, but future missions will send astronauts back to the lunar surface for the first time in more than 50 years.

The nearly 100 m tall (328 ft) SLS mounted a massive tractor to the platform.

Started moving out of his assembly building in Kennedy shortly before 22:00 on Tuesday local time, and completed the 6.7 km (4.2 mi) journey just after sunrise on Wednesday morning.


No humans are on board, but sensor-laden dummies will record conditions during the mission.

This is a key moment for NASA, which in December will celebrate the half-century anniversary of Apollo 17, the last human landing on the Moon.

The agency promised to return with its new Artemis program, using technology befitting the modern era (Artemis was the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo and goddess of the Moon).

NASA sees a return to the Moon as a way to prepare to go to Mars with astronauts sometime in the 2030s or soon after.

The SLS will have 15% more thrust than Apollo’s Saturn V rockets. This extra power, combined with other improvements, will allow the vehicle to not only send astronauts far beyond Earth, but also so much equipment and cargo that these crews can be away for long periods.

Rocket Climbing

Rocket Climbing

The crew capsule is also a breakthrough in capability. Called Orion, it is much more spacious, being one meter wider, at 5m (16.5ft), than the historic command modules of the 1960s and 1970s.

“For all of us who gaze at the Moon, dreaming of the day when humanity will return to the lunar surface – folks, we’re here! We’re coming back. And that journey, our journey, begins with Artemis 1,” said Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson.

“The first manned launch, Artemis 2, is two years from now in 2024. We expect the first landing, Artemis 3, to be in 2025,” he told BBC News.

NASA has promised that this third mission will witness the first woman to put her boots on the surface of the Moon.

SLS chart

SLS chart

Once the SLS reaches its launch pad, engineers will have just over a week and a half to prepare the vehicle for flight.

There are three possible release opportunities at the end of the month, starting on Monday, August 29th.

If technical problems or bad weather prevent the rocket from leaving Earth on this date, a new attempt can be made on Friday, September 2, and failing that, on Monday, September 5.

The scope of the mission is to send Orion circling the back of the Moon before bringing him home for a swim in the Pacific Ocean in California.

One of the main goals of the test fight is to see if the capsule’s heat shield can survive the heat of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

european module

Work: The Orion conical capsule is pushed through space by the European Service Module

A key partner in the next mission is Europe.

It’s providing the propulsion module that sits on the back of Orion, pushing it through space.

“More than 10 countries in Europe are working on this contribution from the European Space Agency (Esa). It is an extremely important moment for us”, explained Siân Cleaver of the aerospace manufacturer Airbus.

“The European Service Module is not just a payload, it’s not just a piece of equipment – it’s a really critical element because Orion can’t get to the moon without us.”

Europa hopes that its contribution to this and future SLS/Orion missions will eventually see a European citizen join a lunar surface crew at some point.

For now, you’ll have to root for the British animated character Shaun the Sheep. A doll used in stop-motion TV movies was placed in the Orion capsule, complete with an Esa badge and the Union flag on his jumpsuit.

Gene Cernan

Last man on the moon: Gene Cernan commanded the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972

While NASA is developing the SLS, American rocket entrepreneur Elon Musk is preparing an even bigger vehicle at his Texas R&D facility.

He calls his giant rocket the Starship, and it will play a role in future Artemis missions, linking up with Orion to take astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

Like the SLS, the Starship has yet to make a maiden flight. Unlike the SLS, the Starship is designed to be fully reusable and therefore should be considerably cheaper to operate.

A recent assessment by the Office of the Inspector General, which audits NASA programs, found that the first four SLS missions would cost more than $4 billion to run — a sum of money that was described as “unsustainable.”

The agency said changes made to the way the industry contracts would significantly reduce future production costs.


Shaun the sheep will ride around the moon

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