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Artemis I: NASA’s mega rocket to the moon returns to the launch pad

Artemis I: NASA’s mega rocket to the moon returns to the launch pad

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The giant rocket at the heart of NASA’s plans to return men to the moon is returning to the launch pad Friday as the space agency is gearing up for another attempt to get the Artemis I mission off the ground.

Liftoff of the uncrewed test mission is scheduled for Nov. 14, with a 69-minute launch window opening at 12:07 a.m. ET. The launch will be streamed live NASA website.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket began the hours-long trek 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from its closed shelter to Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida late Thursday night.

The rocket was stored for weeks after that fuel leak problems it foiled the first two launch attempts and then a the hurricane made its way through Floridaforcing the rocket to leave the launch pad and head for safety.

The Artemis team is again monitoring a storm that could be heading toward Florida, but is confident it will move forward with the launch to the launch pad, said Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Mission Directorate for Research Systems Development.

An unnamed storm could develop near Puerto Rico over the weekend and move slowly northwestward early next week, said meteorologist Mark Burger, the U.S. Air Force launch weather officer at Cape Canaveral.

“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30% chance of becoming a named storm,” Burger said. “However, that being said, the models are very consistent in developing some kind of low pressure.”

Weather officials do not expect it to become a strong system, but will monitor potential impacts in the middle of next week, he said.

Returning the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) SLS rocket to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, gave engineers a chance to take a deeper look at the problems which tormented the rocket and that perform maintenance.

In September, NASA was racing against time to get Artemis I off the ground because there was a risk of draining the batteries necessary for the mission if it spent too long on the launch pad without taking off. The engineers were able charge or replace the batteries through the rocket and the Orion spacecraft on it as they sat in the VAB.

The overall goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to return humans to the Moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission – expected to be the first of many – will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly to the moon and back.

But launching this first mission was an attempt. The SLS rocket, which cost roughly $4 billion, ran into problems because it was filled with super-cooled liquid hydrogen, which caused a series of leaks. Faulty sensor also gave inaccurate readings as the rocket attempted to “condition” its engines, a process that cools the engines so they are not shocked by the temperatures of its supercooled fuel.

NASA worked to solve both problems. The Artemis team decided to mask the faulty sensor, essentially ignoring the data it was publishing. And after a second launch attempt in September, the space agency performed another field test when the rocket was still on the launch pad.

The purpose of the cryogenic demonstration was to test the seals and use updated “kinder and gentler” supercooling fueling procedures, which the rocket would experience on launch day. Although the test didn’t go exactly as planned, NASA said it met all of its goals.

NASA officials reiterated that these delays are also technical issues they do not necessarily indicate a significant problem with a rocket.

Before SLS, NASA’s space shuttle the program, which flew for 30 years, endured frequent cleanup launches. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets also have a history of being cleaned for mechanical or technical problems.

“I want to reflect on the fact that this is a challenging mission,” Free said. “We saw challenges just to get all our systems to work together and that’s why we’re doing a flight test. It’s about looking for things that can’t be modeled. And we’re learning by taking more risks on this mission before we put a crew there.”

The Artemis I mission is expected to pave the way for other missions to the moon. After liftoff, the Orion capsule, which is designed to carry astronauts and sit atop the rocket during liftoff, will detach when it reaches space. It will fly empty for this mission, except for a few models. The Orion capsule will spend several days maneuvering to the moon before entering its orbit and beginning its journey home a few days later.

In all, the mission is expected to last 25 days, with the Orion capsule landing in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on December 9.

The purpose of the trip is to collect data and test hardware, navigation and other systems to ensure that both the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule are ready to host astronauts. The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface this decade.

The Artemis II mission, scheduled for 2024, is expected to follow a similar flight path around the Moon, but will have a crew on board. In 2025, Artemis III is expected to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since NASA’s Apollo program.





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