NASA’s new giant rocket, the SLS, returned to its launch site in Florida for a new attempt to take off to the Moon ten days later to mark the big start of America’s new flagship Artemis program.
After two failed launches this summer, technical problems forced the rocket back into the assembly shop for hurricane protection.
NASA took the opportunity to recharge the batteries of many elements of the rocket, including the batteries of some of the mini-science satellites on board.
The mile-long journey from the assembly plant to Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39B took about nine hours. The operation involved moving the rocket (98 meters high) over a giant platform that rolled very smoothly to avoid vibrations as much as possible.
She arrived at her destination at 8:30 am local time.
The Artemis 1 test mission without an astronaut on board will mark the very first flight of a major American program back to the moon, with the goal of delivering the first woman and the first person of color.
This will be the first flight of the SLS (Space Launch System), a heavy launch vehicle that NASA has been developing for over a decade.
A new takeoff attempt is scheduled for the night of November 13-14, seven minutes after midnight local time (04:07 GMT). The firing window lasts just over an hour when needed.
“We are happy with the idea of launching at night,” said Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator, during a press conference on Thursday. The data needed to analyze the performance of this new vehicle will be collected using radar and infrared cameras, he said.
If successfully launched that day, the mission would last just over 25 days, landing in the Pacific Ocean on December 9th.
The goal is, in part, to make sure the Orion capsule on top of the rocket is safe to carry astronauts in the future. It will be sent up to 64,000 km beyond the Moon, not landing there, but traveling farther than any other habitable spacecraft before it.
The SLS rocket for the Artemis 1 mission to the Moon is directed to the launch pad November 4, 2022 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida (NASA/AFP – Joel KOWSKY)
When re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, its heat shield would have to withstand speeds of nearly 40,000 km/h and temperatures half that of the Sun’s surface.
Two reserve take-off dates were set: 16 and 19 November.
The last time humans landed on the moon was in 1972.
This time, the Artemis program should allow NASA to establish a long-term human presence there, in particular with the construction of a space station in orbit around the Moon.
For the US space agency, this is a step towards testing all the technologies needed for a future trip to Mars.