NASA’s future lunar rocket is baptizing … from the sky

NASA’s giant new rocket is set to make its first trip to a launch pad on Thursday before a battery of tests that, if successful, should lead to flying to the Moon this summer.

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The SLS rocket leaves the assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at exactly 5 pm (2100 GMT) and will take eleven hours to reach, carrying a large tracked vehicle, the legendary launch complex 39B, located over six kilometers away. .

Astronomical costs

With the Orion capsule attached to its end, the SLS rocket rises 98 meters in height, higher than the Statue of Liberty, but slightly less than the 110 meters Saturn V rocket that sent Man on the Moon during of Apollo missions.

The SLS will produce 39.1 meganewtons 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 Whitmeyer, a senior NASA official, told reporters this week.

A symbol, however, accompanied by a bill of 4.1 billion dollars per launch for the first four Artemis missions to the Moon, pointed the inspector general of the American space agency, Paul Martin, before Congress this month.

Once the launch pad is reached, engineers will have approximately two weeks to conduct a battery of tests before a pre-launch dress rehearsal.

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

The rocket will be dehydrated to demonstrate a safe aborted launch.

NASA’s future lunar rocket is baptizing ... from the sky

To the Moon and Beyond

NASA is targeting a first launch window in May for Artemis 1, an unmanned lunar mission that will be the first combination of the SLS rocket and Orion capsule.

SLS will first place Orion in low Earth orbit before, thanks to its upper phase, conducting a “trans-lunar injection”.

This maneuver is necessary to send Orion more than 450,000 km from Earth and nearly 64,000 km across 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 collect information about deep space.

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

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

We will have to wait for Artemis 2, scheduled for 2024, to see a manned test flight. The capsule will then spin the Moon, without getting there, while Artemis 3, now scheduled for 2025 at the earliest, should see the first woman and the first man of color to step on the lunar ground, south of satellite pole.

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

NASA’s future lunar rocket is baptizing ... from the sky

SLS vs. Starship

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

However, Elon Musk’s company is developing another rocket for deep space: Starship, which is fully reusable and the billionaire said will be ready for an orbit test this year.

The Starship will be both bigger and stronger than the SLS: 120 meters tall, it will be able to generate more than 75 meganewtons of thrust. It will also be cheaper.

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

But direct comparisons between the two rockets are complicated by the fact that SLS was designed to reach its final destination directly, while SpaceX planned to put a Starship rocket into orbit, then re -give it a another Starship rocket, to extend its reach. and its cargo.

Nasa also contracted with SpaceX for a version of the Starship to be used as a lunar descent vehicle for Artemis.


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