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SLS: NASA is finally ready to launch the huge rocket for the first time

NASA’s Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever built, will launch for the first time on August 29 on the Artemis I mission around the moon.


24 August 2022

It’s finally time. After more than a decade of development, years of delays and billions of dollars of budget overruns, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is ready to launch with the Orion capsule on top. If all goes well, the massive rocket will blast off on its maiden voyage, the Artemis I mission, on August 29, the first big test of NASA’s plan to return people to the moon’s surface by 2025.

The rocket launched to its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 17 and passed a flight readiness check on August 22. “We’re going to launch, which is absolutely extraordinary,” said the NASA director. Robert Cabana at a press conference after the review. “This day has been a long time coming.”

SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built and produces more thrust than even the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts to the moon. With Orion stacked on top of it, it stands almost 100 meters tall, taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.

There are some small components of the launch that have yet to be tested, including a process called hydrogen jumpstart in which engines are cooled with liquid hydrogen before igniting. It could not be tested during previous “dress rehearsals” due to a hydrogen leak, and will be tested by mission engineers on planned launch day. If the leak is still there, the launch will be postponed. There are two backup release windows, September 2 and September 5.

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft on top at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

NASA/Joel Kowsky

If all goes well, SLS will take Orion to an altitude of just under 4,000 kilometers before the two spacecraft separate and the rocket plummets toward Earth. Orion will continue on to the moon, where she will spend six days in orbit before returning home. The mission will have a total duration of 42 days.

One of the main objectives of this flight is to test Orion’s heat shield, which will have to withstand temperatures of almost 2800°C when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere at more than 40,000 kilometers per hour. While Orion won’t have a crew on board this time, the spacecraft’s first manned flight is planned for 2024, it will carry dummies equipped with sensors to ensure the journey is safe for astronauts.

“This is a test flight. It’s not without risk… We’re stressing Orion beyond what it was actually designed for in preparation for sending it to the moon with a crew,” Cabana said. “We want to make sure it works perfectly when we do it and that we understand all the risks.”

After Artemis I, the next flight in 2024 is scheduled to take a crew of astronauts around the moon and back without landing. Then, in 2025, NASA planned the first manned moon landing since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. NASA officials have said that the 2025 mission, Artemis III, will include the first woman to walk on the moon.

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