Artemis I: NASA’s mega moon rocket returns to launch pad

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The huge rocket at the heart of NASA’s plans to bring humans back to the moon is back on the launch pad friday like the space agency prepares for another attempt to get the Artemis I mission off the ground.

Liftoff for the uncrewed test mission is scheduled for Nov. 14, with a 69-minute launch window that opens at 12:07 a.m. ET. The launch will be broadcast live on NASA website.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket has begun the multi-hour, 4-mile trek from its indoor shelter to Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. late Thursday evening.

The rocket had been put away for weeks after fuel leak problems which foiled the first two launch attempts and then a the hurricane passed through Floridaforcing the rocket off the launch pad and heading for safety.

The Artemis team is once again monitoring a storm that could head into Florida, but feels confident moving forward with the launch pad deployment, said Jim Free, associate administrator of the Development Missions Branch. NASA exploration systems.

The unnamed storm could develop near Puerto Rico over the weekend and will move slowly northwestward early next week, said meteorologist Mark Burger, U.S. Air Force Launch Weather Officer. at Cape Canaveral.

“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30% chance of becoming a named storm,” Burger said. “However, that being said, the models are very consistent on the development of some sort of low pressure.”

Weather officials don’t expect this to become a strong system, but they will be watching for potential impacts until the middle of next week, he said.

The return of the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) SLS rocket to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, gave engineers the opportunity to look deeper into the issues which afflicted the rocket and to perform maintenance.

In September, NASA raced against time to get Artemis I off the ground because there was a risk of draining mission-critical batteries if it stayed too long on the launch pad without liftoff. The engineers were able recharge or replace the batteries throughout the rocket and Orion spacecraft on top as they sat 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 in a long series – will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all of their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly. to the moon and back.

But getting that first mission off the ground was tough. The SLS rocket, which cost around $4 billion, ran into problems as it was charged with supercooled liquid hydrogen, causing a series of leaks. A faulty sensor also gave inaccurate readings as the rocket attempted to “condition” its engines, a process that cools the engines so they won’t be shocked by the temperatures of its supercooled fuel.

NASA worked to solve both problems. The Artemis team decided to mask the faulty sensor, essentially ignoring the data it emits. And following the second launch attempt in September, the space agency performed another ground test while the rocket was still on the launch pad.

The purpose of the cryogenic demonstration was to test the seals and use updated “softer and gentler” loading procedures of the supercold propellant, which the rocket would experience on launch day. Although the test didn’t go exactly as planned, NASA said it met all of its objectives.

NASA officials again emphasized that these delays and technical issues do not necessarily indicate a significant problem with the rocket.

Before the SLS, NASA’s space shuttle program, which flew for 30 years, suffered frequent rubbed launches. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets also have a history of friction for mechanical or technical issues.

“I want to reflect on the fact that this is a difficult mission,” Free said. “We encountered difficulties in getting all of our systems to work together and that is why we are carrying out a flight test. It’s about going after the things that can’t be modeled. And we learn by taking more risks on this mission before putting a crew on it.

The Artemis I mission should pave the way for other missions towards the Moon. After liftoff, the Orion capsule, which is designed to carry astronauts and sits atop the rocket during liftoff, will separate when it reaches space. It will fly empty for this mission, with the exception of a few dummies. The Orion capsule will spend a few days maneuvering towards the moon before entering its orbit and beginning the return trip a few days later.

Overall, the mission is expected to last 25 days, with the Orion capsule’s plunge into the Pacific Ocean off San Diego scheduled for December 9.

The purpose of the trip is to collect data and test hardware, navigation and other systems to ensure the SLS rocket and Orion capsule are ready to receive 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 a 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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