July 5, 2022

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in depth |  The Space Launch System, the massive rocket that will take humans back to the Moon in 2025, is undergoing its acid test on Monday

in depth | The Space Launch System, the massive rocket that will take humans back to the Moon in 2025, is undergoing its acid test on Monday

It will be, as expected, 2:40 pm local time in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday, June 20 (8:40 p.m. in Spain) when the SLS rocket passes, if all goes well, its last launch test. It will be at launch pad 39B, inThe one from which the legendary Saturn V departed in 1969 with Apollo 10, bound to our normal satellite. now it space launch system takes his place. This test, and wet rehearsalit will be the last before the promising giant takes us back to the place we should never have left: the moon.

What will be tested?

The wet rehearsal It is a rehearsal of all the operations that were performed before launch. Fuel and oxidizer of coolants, so they cannot be stored on the missile and must be charged before takeoff. The loading process, along with the pre-loaded T-10 seconds, will be tested on June 20. If SLS passes it, everything will be ready for the first launch of the program ArtemisNASA’s ambitious goal is to get humans to set foot on the moon again.

In the case of SLS, about 2.6 million liters are loaded between oxygen and liquid hydrogen; Amount of thrusters needed to go around the moon and back (the Artemis I mission won’t land). This amount is barely proportional to an Olympic pool two meters deep.

Heavy weight to handle giant missions

SLS is gigantic. It belongs to the category of ultra-high weight jugsneeded to tackle bulky tasks such as going to the moon oa Mars.

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Launchers are typically categorized by the number of kilograms or tons that can be placed in low Earth orbit (LEO, up to about 1,500 km), and those that can put more than 50 tons in low Earth orbit are considered superheavy launchers.

That’s more than the heaviest trailer you’ll see on the road packed to the brim. Accelerated up to about 28,000 km/h It is set to orbit the Earth.

The SLS is bigger than that. The first version, called Block-1, with a height of about 100 meters and a total weight of 2,700 tons, will have a loading capacity of 95 tons from low Earth orbit. There are still two more versions to come: Block-1B (105 tons in LEO) and Block 2 (130 tons in LEO), because 95 tons in LEO is not enough to meet NASA’s plans to return to the Moon.

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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It is planned to put humans on the moon in 2025

The mass that can be sent to the Moon (TLI, Trans Lunar Injection) is much less than what can be loaded into LEO. In this case, the various versions of the SLS have a load capacity at TLI of about 27 tons, 40 tons and 45 tons, and each kilogram will be important to ambitious plans to put a foot on the moon again, which include establishing a pre-orbiting station around the moon itself, the gateway that It descends and descends to its surface. If all goes well, this will happen in 2025 as part of the Artemis III mission.

SLS is for Artemis as Saturn V is for Apollo. And while it might be thought that more than 50 years later Saturn 5 should have largely been surpassed, the truth is that it hasn’t. Globally, the load capacity of both actuators is very similar, for both LEO and TLI. This is if we talk about the Block-2 version of the SLS, because the version that is currently on the launchpad is still very far away.

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The SLS had to pass many sunflower tests, and it was political

It may sound strange, but politics plays a fundamental role in these issues and the situation is very different now than it was in the 1960s. After Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech, the United States was a country with a common goal of national pride able to spend an amount equivalent today to about two-thirds of Spain’s annual public budgets. Today, that motive no longer exists. With alternating between Democratic and Republican governments, space programs and launchers cancel each other out when the political label changes, and the total approved investment is about ten times less. So, hSo far, the road to the SLS has been bumpy.

semi recycled rocket

after, after columbia disaster, NASA had to completely reorganize its strategy. He needed a system to transport astronauts to International Space Station (ISS) To replace the shuttle and wanted to promote the deep space program. The answer is the program constellationwith Ares I launchers for manned missions to LEO and Ares V for lunar and Martian missions.

After accumulating a large number of cost overruns and delays, the program was canceled in 2009. But after pressure from the companies involved in building Ares, the Constellation program gave rise to the Space Launch System.

Following the precedents, the SLS had to be built in a short time and at moderate cost, so it was decided to start from existing elements, mainly from Space ship. RS-25 Shuttle Surplus and Their Engines booster (Those side missiles that accompanied the legendary orange tank) will serve as the basis for the new missiles.

The idea was to have it up and running before 2017, but despite all the “facilities” the program continues to accumulate delays and cost overruns.

The first release is planned for August 2022

The first release is expected in August 2022, more than five years later than initially planned. It would not be unreasonable to think that one of the many factors that may have contributed to this is the company’s contract philosophy. Container For this type of project Contracting with extra costwhich means that NASA allocates budgets to contractors, but also takes care of any additional costs they may incur.

In fact, Cost overruns and delays mean that the program is nearly out of moneyAnd, given the high price per launch (hard to estimate, but estimated to be around 2 billion per launch), especially compared to other alternatives, it looks like the SLS might have a bit more travel apart from the Artemis. Even his iconic mission to the outer solar system, europe scissors, has been delegated to SpaceX’s subsidiary Falcon Heavy. Currently There are many initiatives to make it viable outside of the Artemis programbut to do so, it would have to significantly reduce its costs per launch.

However, despite all the difficulties, Artemis is shaped by this giant And if nothing prevents it, starting in August we will be able to start getting emotional again to see how the road to the moon is being built, through various missions.

The missile can be seen alive and wet rehearsal Scheduled for 8:40 p.m. in Spain on June 20.

Sections of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS).
Sections of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS).
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  • Alejandro Manuel Gómez San Juan Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Vigo This article was first published in Conversation Under a Creative Commons license which is intended for scholarly publishing.
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