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Final Countdown Begins for NASA’s Huge New Rocket

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System reflected in the spin basin at the Kenendy Space Center in Florida.

Trevor Mahlman


Shortly after midnight local time, NASA began loading liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen aboard its Space Launch System rocket ahead of a launch attempt Monday morning.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this mission to NASA. This will be the space agency’s first launch of one of its own rockets since 2011, the final space shuttle mission. Even more significant, this Artemis I mission is the first stepping stone on a path that could take NASA, along with a group of international partners, back to the Moon and then to Mars.

A two-hour launch window opens at precisely 8:33:00 am ET (12:33 UTC) on Monday morning, at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center.

You should set your expectations accordingly. Yes, there are reasons to be optimistic that the rocket will take off on time. Overall, weather conditions look favorable for Monday morning. And NASA has done everything reasonably possible to prepare for this launch attempt, including refueling the vehicle multiple times and bringing its countdown to within seconds of an actual launch attempt.

“We’re up for just about anything,” Jeff Spaudling, NASA’s Artemis I senior test manager, said during a pre-launch press conference on Sunday. “See you very well for tomorrow.”

However, the launch attempt could very well be scuppered. Among the main concerns are testing solutions to hydrogen leaks with the rocket’s ground support team. And then there’s the usual process of testing new, large, complex space hardware.

If NASA can’t get the mission off the ground, what happens next will depend on the circumstances in the thicket. If the countdown reaches T-6.8 seconds and all four SLS main engines fire, there will be no fast recycle attempt. A cleanup after engine start-up would require a drive back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for an engine change; it’s quicker to switch to other RS-25 motors than to go through the thorough inspection process. This would push the next launch attempt to at least October.

If the rocket stalls before engine firing, the next possible date for an attempt is September 2, with a launch time in the middle of the day, followed by daily opportunities until September 5. After this point, it would be necessary to take off the vehicle. the platform for renewal, which requires a delay of several weeks.

East it is a flight test, but confidence is high on success. NASA officials said this weekend that the “loss of vehicle” estimate during the Artemis I mission is 1 in 125. This means the agency is more than 99 percent confident the SLS rocket will launch successfully. the Orion spacecraft into orbit, after which it will fly to the moon and stay there for several weeks before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean after a 42-day mission in October.

There will be no crew aboard the vehicle, but if this mission goes well, the Artemis II flight in about two years will take four astronauts to the Moon and back, followed by a landing during the Artemis III program later this decade. This is NASA’s first credible deep space exploration program involving astronauts since Apollo half a century ago. To go boldly, you must take those first tentative steps. That is what is at stake on Monday.

NASA wants broadcast the launch attempt live, starting at 6:30 a.m. ET (10:30 UTC) on Monday. There are other NASA broadcast options alsoincluding a clean broadcast with views of the rocket and audio from a commentator at the Launch Control Center at NASA. media channels.

Official transmission of the Artemis I mission.


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