NASA’s new SLS moon rocket, October 22, 2020 (NASA/Handout)
NASA’s new giant rocket is scheduled to make its maiden flight to the launch pad Thursday ahead of a set of tests that, if successful, should take it to the moon this summer.
The SLS rocket will leave the assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5 pm (2100 GMT) and will take to the legendary Launch Complex 39B, carried by a massive tracked vehicle, located just over six kilometers away. .
– astronomical costs –
With the Orion capsule attached to its tip, the SLS rocket soars 98 meters, taller than the Statue of Liberty, but just under 110 meters than the Saturn 5 rocket that sent humans on the moon during the Apollo missions.
The SLS would produce 39.1 megatons of thrust, however, 15% more than the Saturn V, making it the most powerful rocket in the world today.
“It’s a symbol of our country,” Tom Whitemaier, a senior NASA official, told reporters this week.
However, the US space agency’s inspector general, Paul Martin, pointed out to Congress this month a code accompanied by a bill of $4.1 billion for each launch of the first four Artemis missions to the moon.
Once at the launch pad, the engineers will have about two weeks to do a set of tests before the pre-launch rehearsal.
On April 3, the SLS team will load more than three million liters of cooled fuel into the rocket and repeat each countdown stage until the last 10 seconds, without firing the engines.
The fuel will then be discharged from the missile to demonstrate a safely aborted launch.
– To the moon and beyond –
NASA is targeting the first launch window in May for Artemis 1, an unmanned lunar mission that will be the first to combine an SLS rocket and Orion capsule.
The SLS will put Orion first in low Earth orbit before, thanks to its upper stage, to perform a “cross-moon injection.”
This maneuver is necessary 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 satellites called CubeSats, the size of a shoebox, that will gather information about deep space.
The capsule will travel to the far side of the moon using thrusters provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), and then return to Earth.
It will be landed in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California.
We’ll have to wait for Artemis 2, scheduled for 2024, to see a manned test flight. The capsule will then circumnavigate the moon, without landing there, while Artemis 3, now scheduled for 2025 at the earliest, is supposed to see the first woman and first person of color to set foot on the lunar Earth, at the satellite’s south pole.
NASA wants to test on the moon some of the technologies it wants to use during its future missions to Mars, in the 2030s.
– SLS vs. Starship –
The operation of the SLS should allow it to join the class of “superheavy” launchers, at the moment consisting only of Space X’s Falcon Heavy, which is smaller than the SLS.
However, Elon Musk’s company is developing another deep space rocket: the Starship, which is completely reusable and which the billionaire said will be ready for orbital testing this year.
The spacecraft will be larger and more powerful than the SLS: with a height of 120 meters, it will be able to develop more than 75 meganewtons of thrust. It will also be much cheaper.
According to Elon Musk, within a few years, the cost of the launch can be reduced to 10 million dollars.
But direct comparisons between the two missiles are complicated by the fact that the SLS is designed to reach its final destination directly, while SpaceX plans to put a Starship missile into orbit, then re-equip it with another Starship missile, to extend its reach. .
NASA has also contracted with SpaceX to obtain a copy of the spacecraft that will be used as a lunar lander for Artemis.
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