NASA’s future lunar rocket makes a baptism… from the air

NASA’s new giant rocket first arrived at the launch site on Friday, where it will undergo a series of tests that, if successful, should lead it to the moon this summer.

After about ten hours from the assembly building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the SLS rocket joined by Friday morning, at 04:15 local time, at the legendary firing complex 39B, located just over six kilometers from.

– Astronomical costs –

With the Orion capsule attached to its tip, the SLS rocket rises 98 meters high, taller than the Statue of Liberty but slightly short of the 110 meters of the Saturn V rocket that sent a man to the moon during the Apollo missions.

“This is the symbol of our country,” senior NASA official Tom Whitmyer told reporters this week.

The symbol, however, is accompanied by a $4.1 billion bill for the launch of the first four Artemis missions to the moon, U.S. space agency Inspector General Paul Martin emphasized in a speech to Congress this month.

Engineers now have about two weeks to run a series of tests before the pre-launch dress rehearsal.

SLS rocket and Orion capsule at Kennedy Space Center on March 17, 2022, Florida (NASA/AFP – Aubrey GEMIGNANI)

On April 3, the SLS team will load more than three million liters of cryogenic fuel into the rocket and repeat each stage of the countdown to the last 10 seconds without firing the engines.

The rocket will then be drained of fuel to demonstrate a safe aborted launch.

– To the moon and beyond –

NASA is planning a first launch in May for Artemis 1, an uncrewed lunar mission that will be the first to combine an SLS rocket and an Orion capsule.

The SLS will first launch Orion into low Earth orbit and then, thanks to its upper stage, perform a “translunar injection”.

This maneuver is needed to send Orion more than 450,000 km from Earth and nearly 64,000 km beyond the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft.

During its three-week mission, Orion will deploy ten shoebox-sized CubeSats that will collect information about deep space.

The capsule will travel to the far side of the Moon using engines provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and then return to Earth.

His landing will take place in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California.

We’ll have to wait until Artemis 2, scheduled for 2024, to see a manned test flight. The capsule will then circumnavigate the moon without landing there, while Artemis 3, scheduled for 2025, should see the first woman and first person of color set foot on lunar land, the moon’s south pole.

NASA wants to test certain technologies on the Moon that it wants to use on its future missions to Mars in the 2030s.

– SLS vs Starship –

The commissioning of the SLS should allow it to join the category of “super-heavy” launchers, currently consisting only of Space X’s Falcon Heavy, which is smaller than the SLS.

NASA's new SLS rocket on March 17, 2022 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (AFP - Gregg Newton)
NASA’s new SLS rocket on March 17, 2022 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (AFP – Gregg Newton)

However, Elon Musk’s company is developing another deep-space rocket: the Starship, which is fully reusable and, according to the billionaire, will be ready for orbital testing this year.

The Starship would be both larger and more powerful than the SLS: at 120 meters high, it would be capable of more than 75 meganewtons of thrust. It would also be much cheaper.

According to Elon Musk, within a few years, the launch cost could be reduced to $10 million.

But a direct comparison between the two rockets is complicated by the fact that the SLS is designed to reach its final destination directly, while SpaceX plans to put a Starship rocket into orbit and then resupply with another Starship rocket to increase its reach and payload. .

NASA has also awarded SpaceX a contract to build a version of the Starship that will be used as a lunar lander for Artemis.

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