Artemis I: NASA Mega Moon Rocket Returns to Launch Pad
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The colossal rocket at the heart of NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon is headed back to the launch pad friday as the space agency gears up for another attempt to get the Artemis I mission off the ground.
The launch of the unmanned test mission is scheduled for Nov. 14, with a 69-minute launch window opening at 12:07 p.m. ET. The launch will stream live on NASA’s website.
The Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket began the hour-long process of hiking 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from its covered shelter to Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. late thursday night.
The rocket had been stored for weeks fuel leakage problems that thwarted the first two launch attempts and then a hurricane rolled through Floridaforcing the missile to leave the launch pad and head for safety.
The Artemis team is again monitoring a storm that could head toward Florida but is confident to continue the rollout to the launch pad, said Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.
The unnamed storm could develop near Puerto Rico over the weekend and will slowly move northwest early next week, said meteorologist Mark Burger, the U.S. Air Force launch weather officer at Cape Canaveral.
“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30% chance of it becoming a named storm,” Burger said. “But that said, the models are very consistent in developing a kind of low pressure.”
Weather officials don’t expect it to be a strong system, but they will be on the lookout for possible effects by mid-next week, he said.
Returning the 322-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) SLS rocket to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, gave engineers a chance to take a deeper look at the problems who have teased the missile and to perform maintenance.
in Sept, NASA raced against time to get Artemis I off the ground because there was a risk that the batteries essential to the mission would run out if it stayed too long on the launch pad without taking off. Engineers were able to charge or replace batteries by the rocket and the Orion spacecraft on it while they were in the VAB.
The overall goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission — expected to be the first of many — will lay the groundwork and test the rocket and spacecraft and all of their subsystems to make sure they’re safe enough for astronauts to fly to the moon and back.
But getting this first mission off the ground was a challenge. The SLS rocket, which cost about $4 billion, ran into trouble because it was loaded with super-cooled liquid hydrogen, causing a series of leaks. A faulty sensor also gave inaccurate readings as the rocket tried to “condition” its engines, a process that cools the engines so they aren’t startled by the temperatures of the supercooled fuel.
NASA has worked to solve both problems. The Artemis team decided to mask the faulty sensor, essentially ignoring the data it puts out. And after the second launch attempt in September, the space agency another soil test performed when the rocket was still on the launch pad.
The purpose of the cryogenic demonstration was to test the seals and use updated “friendlier” loading procedures of the super-cold propellant, which the rocket would experience on launch day. While the test didn’t go exactly as planned, NASA said it met all of its objectives.
NASA officials reiterated that these delays and technical issues do not necessarily indicate a significant problem with the rocket.
For the SLS, NASA’s space shuttle program, which flew for 30 years, underwent regular scrubbed launches. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets also have a history of scrubbing for mechanical or technical issues.
“I do want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that this is a challenging mission,” Free said. “We’ve seen challenges in getting all our systems to work together, so we’re doing a flight test. It’s about going after the things that can’t be modeled. And we learn by taking more risk on this mission before we crew it.”
The Artemis I mission is expected to pave the way for other missions to the moon. After takeoff, the Orion capsule, which is designed to carry astronauts and sits on top of the rocket during takeoff, will disintegrate as it reaches space. It will fly empty for this mission, except for a few mannequins. The Orion capsule will maneuver to the moon for a few days before entering its orbit and starting its journey home days later.
In total, the mission is expected to last 25 days, with the Orion capsule landing in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego on December 9.
The purpose of the trip is to collect data and test the hardware, navigation and other systems to ensure that both the SLS rocket and Orion capsule are ready to accommodate astronauts. The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface this decade.
The Artemis II mission, scheduled for 2024, is expected to follow a similar flight path around the moon, but will have crew on board. And in 2025, Artemis III is expected to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since NASA’s Apollo program.
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