NASA says the Artemis 1 moon rocket appears ready for astronaut missions
After accomplishing its first-ever mission, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket appears ready to take the next big step — launching astronauts.
The first SLS flight, on Nov. 16, kicked off NASA’s 25-day Artemis 1 mission, which sent an uncrewed Orion capsule to lunar orbit and back. It also made the SLS the most powerful rocket ever successfully launched, a title it snatched from NASA’s famous Saturn V rocket.
An initial performance evaluation of SLS’ Artemis 1, released by NASA on November 30, gave the rocket high marks, finding that it performed as expected across the board. Expedition team members now have more time to crunch the numbers, and the reviews are still great, indicating that no major changes will be needed before the first crewed SLS is launched.
“Based on an assessment made shortly after launch, preliminary post-flight data indicates that all SLS systems are performing exceptionally well and designs are ready to support crewed flight aboard Artemis 2,” NASA officials wrote in a Jan. 27 update. (Opens in a new tab). “The post-flight analysis team will continue to review the data and make final reports.”
Artemis 2 will send NASA astronauts on a roughly 10-day mission around the Moon in 2024, if all goes according to plan.
Pictures: Stunning views of the emergence of NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket
SLS team members analyzed a lot of data to reach their latest conclusions, which, as the above statement makes clear, is not the final word on the missile’s performance and prospects.
For example, cameras on the ground, the rocket, and in the air collected about 31 terabytes of image data about liftoff, NASA officials said — more than 1.5 times the information represented by printed materials in the US Library of Congress.
“Several views of the Artemis 1 rocket, including the solid rocket booster separation and the Interim Cooled Propulsion Stage (ICPS) separation, provided image data that helped us evaluate SLS performance from takeoff through the ascent and separation events,” Beth St. Peter, SLS Image Integration Head, said in an update. Jan 27th.
ICPS, the SLS upper stage, is powered by a single RL-10 engine. The giant rocket’s core stage features four RS-25 engines left over from the space shuttle era. Two solid rocket boosters are installed in the Artemis 1 mission core stage, helping the SLS generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
All of these devices were working very well on November 16, NASA officials said in the latest update. For example, the RS-25’s thrust levels were within 0.5% of expected values, as was the ratio of fuel (liquid hydrogen) to oxidizer (liquid oxygen) in the engines.
In addition, the SLS core stage incorporated ICPS and Orion into an initial orbit that took the duo as far as 972.1 miles (1,564.4 kilometers) from Earth and as close as 16 miles (25.7 km).
The entry was only 2.9 miles [4.7 km] Just shy of the ideal target of 975 miles [1,569.1 km] NASA officials wrote in the update: 16 miles and within acceptable standards.
Artemis 1 will be just the beginning for the SLS and Orion, if all goes according to plan. NASA is counting on the hardware to help establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon by the end of 2020, a major goal of the agency’s Artemis program.
Artemis will be based on other elements as well. For example, SpaceX’s giant Starship will be the program’s first manned lunar lander, and the Artemis architecture also includes a small space station orbiting the moon called Gateway.
If all goes well with Artemis 2, Artemis 3 will put astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or thereabouts.
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Major Grand Publishing, 2018; illustration by Carl Tate), a book about the search for aliens. Follow him on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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