After months of testing, troubleshooting and repairs, engineers began refueling Artemis 1 Space Launch System lunar rocket for Monday’s blastoff on a timed test flight to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a 42-day trip around the moon.
Thunderstorms moved within five nautical miles of Launch Pad 39B just after midnight, forcing Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson to delay the start of fuel loading by 55 minutes. But the six-hour procedure finally began at 1:13 a.m. EDT.
Later, a hydrogen leak was detected during refueling.
Another issue nearing the final hours of the countdown was troubleshooting to find the cause of a sudden communication failure on one of the channels that transmits commands and telemetry to the Orion spacecraft.
It was not immediately clear what impact, if any, the planned 8:33 a.m. hydrogen leak and troubleshooting might have.
Engineers hoped to get the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built into a two-hour launch window during its long-awaited first flight.
Loading 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and 537,000 gallons of hydrogen into the rocket’s massive core stage requires a carefully designed refueling procedure. The upper stage requires another 22,000 gallons of oxygen and hydrogen, for a total of 750,000 gallons of fuel.
The SLS’s four service-cycle engines and two extended solid-fuel boosters will generate an earth-shattering 8.8 million pounds of thrust to propel the 5.7 million-pound rocket away from Platform 39B at Kennedy Space Center.
Part of a rocket Artemis 1 the mission will last just one hour and 36 minutes, launching the Orion capsule and its ESA-provided service module into space, out of Earth’s orbit and on a trajectory toward the Moon.
After a close flyby of just 60 miles, Orion will enter a distant orbit around the moon for two weeks of testing and inspection. If all goes well, the capsule will descend toward the Moon for another close flyby on October 3, leading to a high-speed descent into the Pacific Ocean splash pad on October 10.
NASA plans to follow up with the Artemis 1 mission in 2024, sending four astronauts to orbit the moon, paving the way for the first astronaut landing in nearly 50 years, followed by the first woman and then the next man. 2025-26 time.
But first, NASA must prove the rocket and capsule will work as planned, and that starts with Monday’s launch of Artemis 1.
Starting approximately 6.6 seconds before launch, the four RS-25 engines will ignite at the base of the main stage and throttle to full power, generating a combined two million pounds of thrust.
When the countdown reaches zero, commands will be sent to ignite both solid rocket boosters, followed by a lightning round of computer checks to verify engine performance. Simultaneously, the signals will release the SLS from the launch pad by setting off four explosive bolts under each booster.
Solid rocket boosters provide most of the power needed to lift the SLS out of the dense atmosphere, firing for two minutes and 10 seconds before touching down at an altitude of 27 miles.
The RS-25 main stage engines will continue their solo climb, firing for another six minutes to lift the rocket to an altitude of 87 miles.
The main stage’s RS-25 engines will fire for eight minutes and the craft will climb to an altitude of 87 miles before shutting down.
The flight plan calls for the rocket’s upper stage, carrying the unmanned Orion capsule and its European Space Agency-supplied service module, to separate from the now-empty main stage and to an altitude of about 1,100 miles, the high point, or apogee, of its initial orbit.
The engine powering the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS, was expected to fire 51 minutes after liftoff to raise the orbit’s low point, or perigee, from 20 miles to about 115.
Reaching this low point forty-five minutes later — one hour and 36 minutes after launch — the ICPS was programmed to fire the RL10B engine in 18 minutes, accelerating the vehicle to about 22,600 mph, more than 10 times faster than the gun. bullet.
That’s what it takes to break free from Earth’s gravity, raising its apogee to the point where the moon will be in space five days from now.
After deploying its four solar wings and leaving ICPS, the Orion capsule will move to a 60-mile flyby of the moon on Sept. 3 and then enter a “far retrograde orbit” that takes the spacecraft even further from Earth — 280,000 miles. — than any previous manned spacecraft.
The flight is the first of a series of missions designed to establish a lunar space station called Gateway and a permanent presence on and around the moon periodically. descents near the south pole where ice deposits can be reached in cold, permanently shadowed craters.
If this ice is available and accessible, future astronauts can “mine” it and turn it into air, water, and even rocket fuel to significantly reduce the cost of deep space exploration.
In general, Artemis astronauts will conduct extensive exploration and research to learn more about the moon’s origin and evolution, and test the equipment and procedures needed before sending astronauts to Mars.
The purpose of the Artemis 1 mission is to accelerate the Orion spacecraft by testing solar power, propulsion, navigation and life support systems before it returns to Earth and descends into the atmosphere at 25,000 mph on Oct. 10. a protective heat shield up to an infernal 5000 degrees.
Testing the heat shield and confirming that it can protect astronauts returning from deep space is #1. Priority 1 of the Artemis 1 mission is a goal that requires the SLS rocket to send the capsule to the Moon first.
If all goes well with the Artemis 1 mission, NASA plans to launch a second SLS rocket in late 2024 to boost four astronauts on a free-orbiting trajectory around the moon, before landing the first woman and the next man on the moon’s surface in the Artemis 3 mission’s south pole.
The flight, which is expected to launch in 2025-26, depends on the development of new spacesuits for NASA’s lunar travelers and a lander by SpaceX based on the design of the company’s reusable Starship rocket.
SpaceX is working on the lander under a $2.9 billion contract with NASA, but the company has provided little in the way of details or updates, and it’s not yet known when NASA and the California rocket maker will be ready for the Artemis 3 moon landing mission. .
But if the Artemis 1 test flight is successful, NASA could test the need for a super-heavy lift rocket to perform initial missions from the ground. With a liftoff thrust of 8.8 million pounds — 15 percent more than the Saturn 5 — the SLS rocket is the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA.
Congress ordered NASA to build the rocket after the space shuttle was retired in 2011, requiring the agency to use leftover serviceable components and existing technology wherever possible to cut costs.
But management errors and technical problems led to delays and billions in cost overruns. According to NASA’s inspector general, the US space agency will “spend $93 billion on Artemis (the lunar program) through fiscal year 2025.”
“We also project the current production and operating costs of a single SLS/Orion system, Artemis 1 through 4, at $4.1 billion per launch, although the Agency’s ongoing initiatives to increase affordability seek to reduce this cost.”
Among the reasons contributing to the SLS’s astronomical price tag: sole sourcing, cost-plus contracts, and the fact that all components except the Orion capsule, its subsystems, and supporting launch vehicles are expendable and “single.” use different systems.
In stark contrast to SpaceX’s commitment to fully reusable rockets, everything but the Orion crew capsule is discarded after a single use. As SpaceX founder Musk likes to point out, it’s like flying a 747 jumbo jet from New York to Los Angeles and then ditching the plane.
“It’s troubling,” NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin, told CBS News. “It’s an expendable, single-use system, unlike some launch systems on the commercial side of the house where there are multiple uses. It’s a one-time use system. So $4.1 billion per flight . . . concerns us enough that in our reports that We said it was unsustainable.”
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