The ground crews Kennedy Space Center started this morning to power NASA’s giant next-generation rocket for its debut launch on an uncrewed test flight to the Moon, five days after an initial liftoff attempt, which was thwarted by technical problems.
The rocket of 32-story-high Space Launch System (SLS) and his orion capsule They should take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:17 p.m. (Chile time), 50 years after the last Apollo lunar mission.
The first launch attempt on Monday was halted by engineering problems. NASA says technicians have since fixed the problems.
Weather is an additional factor beyond NASA’s control. The latest forecast saw a 70% chance of favorable conditions during Saturday’s two-hour window.according to the US Space Force at Cape Canaveral.
Before dawn, the launch teams began the long and delicate process of filling the rocket’s core stage fuel tanks with several hundred thousand gallons of liquid hydrogen propellant and supercooled liquid oxygen.
Engineers stopped loading liquid hydrogen around 7:30 am, about an hour into the complex process, to repair a leak.
If the countdown were to stop again, NASA could reschedule another launch attempt for Monday or Tuesday.
It also signals a major change in direction for NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program, after decades focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station.
Named for the goddess that she was the twin sister of Apollo in ancient Greek mythology, Sagebrush has as purpose return astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2025although many experts believe that time frame is likely to be later.
Twelve astronauts walked on the Moon during six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the only spaceflights so far that placed humans on the lunar surface. But Apollo, born of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, was less science-driven than Artemis.
The new lunar program has recruited business partners like SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Canada and Japan to eventually establish a long-term lunar base of operations as a springboard for even more ambitious human voyages to Mars.
Launch the SLS-Orion spacecraft is a key first step. Its first trip is meant to put the £5.75m vehicle through its paces. in a rigorous test flight that exceeds its design limits and aims to prove that the spacecraft is suitable for flying astronauts.
If the mission is successful, a manned Artemis II flight around the Moon and back could arrive as early as 2024, followed within a few more years with the astronaut program’s first lunar landing, one of them a woman, with Artemis III.
Billed as the world’s most powerful complex rocket, the SLS represents the largest new vertical launch system that NASA has built since the Saturn V of the Apollo era.
Barring last-minute difficulties, Saturday’s countdown should end with the rocket’s four main RS-25 engines and their twin solid rocket boosters igniting to produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust, about 15% more than the Saturn V, sending the spacecraft skyward.
About 90 minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stage will push Orion out of ongoing Earth orbit for a 37-day flight that will take it within 60 miles of the lunar surface before sail 64,374 km past the Moon and back to Earth. The capsule is expected to splash down in the Pacific on October 11.
Although there are no humans on board, Orion will carry a simulated crew of three, one male and two female mannequins, equipped with sensors to measure radiation and other stresses that real-life astronauts would experience.
The spacecraft is also ready to launch a payload of 10 miniaturized science satellites, called CubeSats, including one designed to map the abundance of ice deposits at the moon’s south pole.
One of the main objectives of the mission is to test the durability of Orion’s heat shield during re-entry when it hits the Earth’s atmosphere at 39,429 kph, or 32 times the speed of sound, on its return from lunar orbit, much faster than more common re-entries of capsules returning from Earth orbit.
the heat shield is designed to resist re-entry friction which is expected to raise temperatures outside the capsule at almost 2,760°C.
More than a decade in development with years of delays and budget overruns, the SLS-Orion spacecraft has so far cost NASA at least $37 billion. The Office of the Inspector General of NASA has projected the total costs of Artemis to rise to $93 billion by 2025.
The space agency defends the program as a boon to space exploration generating tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade.