NASA hopes to launch the most powerful rocket ever before the end of August. Let’s take a look at the Space Launch System (SLS), what goes into setting the most important launch dates, and how you can watch the uber science missile lift off live for free.
The SLS is a truly monstrous rocket.
When fully stacked with its Orion crew pod, it stands approximately 320 feet tall – the equivalent of 33 Lady Dimitriscus – and hits a towering lone figure on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Its first stage – which makes up the bulk of the rocket – is powered by four refurbished RS-25 shuttle-era engines, aided by two gargantuan solid-fueled belt boosters, which together are capable of generate a staggering 8.8 million pound thrust during launch. For context, the Saturn V rocket that launched astronauts to the moon in the 1960s/70s only generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust.
The top of the SLS also houses a purpose-built engine to give the rocket’s payload – including its crew capsule – the final push needed to break free from low Earth orbit and set it on course to launch. a date with the moon.
In the years to come, NASA and its partners want to harness this power to help it in its ambitious mission to return astronauts to the Moon as part of the Artemis program. NASA’s primary goals with Artemis will be to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon where humanity can explore the surface of Earth’s natural satellite, while developing the technologies needed to send humanity safely to Mars. .
This ambitious plan would require an enormous amount of resources to get out of Earth’s atmosphere and into lunar orbit, where the impressive lift capabilities of the SLS come into play.
However, despite the investment of billions of dollars and more than a decade of planning, there is no guarantee that the rocket’s first launch will be a success. The development of SLS has been a monumental technical and scientific challenge, and it has not always gone smoothly.
Prior to launch, testing of the rocket’s many components raised numerous design issues that had to be resolved before NASA could consider using the rocket.
Countless setbacks led to the rocket’s first launch being pushed back from an ambitious 2017 target until August 2022. That’s a significant delay. Otherwise, as reported by CNBC, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin estimated in a meeting with Congress earlier this year that each launch of the SLS could cost US$4.1 billion. This is more than the total Cassini mission lifetime cost of 20 years.
In short, it would be very, very inconvenient if NASA’s hugely expensive, long overdue and operationally untested rocket were to suffer a catastrophic failure on its maiden flight.
The stakes are high
The stakes are high and last month NASA revealed it would attempt to launch its first SLS rocket – with an uncrewed Orion capsule – as early as August 29 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
If all goes well, the SLS will catapult the crew capsule, along with its European-made service module, into space on an ambitious 38-42 day test mission known as Artemis. 1.
During the ascent through Earth’s atmosphere, the launch vehicle and its valuable Orion payload will be subjected to extreme temperatures, vibrations and other disruptive pressures.
The capsule will then be forced to survive the freezing environment of space for weeks as it stretches 280,000 miles from Earth – further than any spacecraft worthy of a crew. has ever flown – before finally braving a fiery comeback.
This glove will test the performance of the SLS and assess Orion’s ability to transport a human crew to lunar orbit and, eventually, safely return to Earth.
NASA’s Super Heavy Moon Rocket – The Space Launch System
However, there are a series of factors ranging from the mundane to the technical that could prevent the rocket from launching during the August 29 two-hour window. For example, bad weather could easily scrub a launch, or there could be unforeseen safety issues downstream. A last-minute technical glitch reported during pre-launch checks could also ruin the day for many scientists.
In light of this, NASA has announced a slew of backup launch windows, including one on September 2 and another on September 5. If by a series of unfortunate events the rocket is still immobilized after these dates, then the agency prepared other dates in two weeks, two weeks off extending until December 23.
A tremendous amount of planning goes into selecting these dates, not only for the good of the rocket, but also for the safety of the Orion capsule which will be the focus of the majority of the weeks-long mission.
For example, the launch can only take place when the Earth and the Moon are in the correct position relative to each other to initiate the transfer burn necessary to place the capsule into the distant lunar orbit required for the launch. assignment.
Mission planners also had to calculate a launch date — and therefore a trajectory — that would allow the spacecraft to avoid falling into the Moon’s or Earth’s shadow for more than 90 minutes at a time. This is vital, as the Orion spacecraft’s solar panels need to be bathed in sunlight in order to generate electricity and provide a habitable environment for a future crew.
want to fall
The flight must also be planned in such a way as to allow the capsule to briefly dive into Earth’s atmosphere on its return in order to slow its speed before rising back into space, like a stone jumping on the surface of a lake.
This whimsical drop reduces heat buildup during atmospheric re-entry and reduces the g-forces that would be experienced by Orion’s crew. It also allows NASA to more accurately predict where the capsule will crash off the coast of San Diego.
NASA considered all of these criteria when selecting 8:33 a.m. EDT on August 29 as the start of the first launch window.
Although it has yet to be announced, NASA is sure to broadcast the historic launch and subsequent coverage of the Artemis mission live on its streaming channel. NASA television. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy live views of Earth captured from the outer shell of the International Space Station, courtesy of ISS HD Earth Observation Experience.
Anthony Wood is a freelance writer for IGN.