NASA’s massive new moon rocket has finally arrived at the launch pad, however it is still unclear when it will actually depart from Earth.
On Thursday evening, a fully stacked Space Launch System rocket and its accompanying launch tower emerged from the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is essentially a giant garage for rockets at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first time such a rocket and launch tower had been seen together. The rocket, which had an Orion capsule on top, in which humans would one day sit, was carefully transported to the launch site, which was more than four miles distant, on the back of a massive crawler.
Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington, said at a press conference on Monday that the vehicle’s “rolling out of the V.A.B.” was a “truly memorable moment for this vehicle.” “To be here for the introduction of the next generation of a very heavy-lift, exploration-class vehicle on Thursday will be an unforgettable experience.”
When the Saturn 5 rockets used to launch the Apollo missions made identical travels to the launchpad on Thursday and Friday, it was evocative of the Apollo period of NASA, which occurred more than half a century ago. When the Saturn 5 spacecraft were moved on Thursday, it was the same crawler that was used in the last mission. However, it had been upgraded and modified for Artemis, a new NASA programme that aims to return men to the lunar surface one day.
This means that the rocket will remain on standby for the next two weeks as engineers inspect different systems on the rocket and launchpad, which is referred to as Launch Complex 39B. After the testing are completed and if everything goes according to plan, there will be a countdown in early April, during which several hundred thousand gallons of cool liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen will be pumped into the propellant tanks.
However, the engines will not ignite and the rocket will not be able to lift off from the ground. Known as NASA as a “wet dress rehearsal,” this will be the final major run-through before a launch can take place. The liquid propellants will be filled during this rehearsal, which will be the last major run-through before a launch can take place. The countdown will come to an end when there are around 10 seconds remaining, without the engines starting.
Following the wet dress rehearsal, the rocket will make its way back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time.
The next time the rocket emerges from the ground, it will be for a launch. NASA officials said they want to observe how the rehearsal works before making a final decision on when the launch will take place — which may happen as early as this summer.
Neither humans nor a spacecraft will be on board on the initial flight. The crewless test mission, known as Artemis 1, will initially circle around the Earth before being propelled out of low-Earth orbit and toward the moon by its second-stage engine, which is now being developed. Afterwards, the Orion capsule will separate from the second stage and, a few days later, will begin its journey around the moon.
The mission, which will last around three weeks, will come to a close when Orion splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
Both the Space Launch System and the Orion space capsule are years behind time and billions of dollars over budget, and both are in danger of becoming obsolete.
NASA has planned Artemis 2 for launch in 2024, a mission that would bring men on a circumnavigation of the moon and return for the first time since 1972. Another group of astronauts will arrive on the moon with the Artemis 3 mission, which NASA has slated for 2025, but that date may be pushed back once again due to technical difficulties.
Using the gigantic Starship rocket constructed by SpaceX as a landing vehicle for the lunar landing mission will be required for the moon landing mission. This year might also see the launch of the Starship Enterprise on its maiden test journey into orbit.