July 5, 2022

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El cohete SLS, en el Centro Espacial Kennedy

NASA is preparing to launch the world’s largest rocket to return to the moon

NASA’s SLS rocket, designed to return astronauts to the Moon, is in the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a rehearsal this weekend before its first mission, scheduled for late August.

The test, which begins today and will run through Monday, will consist of a 48-hour countdown that will be interrupted ten seconds before takeoff. All operations will be carried out prior to launch, approximately three million liters of liquid fuel will be loaded into the rocket and mishaps leading to mission delays will be simulated.

The first mission of the Artemisa program will go without astronauts to make sure everything is running fine

Data recorded during testing of the SLS (Initials for Space Launch System or Space Launch System) will be analyzed in the coming weeks. If the rocket passes the exam, it will be christened in space starting August 23 on the Artemis I mission, an unmanned flight into lunar orbit that takes four to six weeks. The first launch with astronauts, also to satellite orbit, is scheduled for mid-2024 on the Artemis II mission. Astronauts return to the moonAnd the The arrival of the first womanAnd the It is expected in 2025 with Artemis III.

Artemis, in Greek mythology, is the twin sister of Apollo, who gave her name to the first program to send NASA astronauts to the Moon between 1961 and 1972.

“We are looking forward to this test to verify the good condition of the launcher,” says Jesus Ortiz, head of missile products for Airbus in Spain, who provided one of the electronic components for the SLS in the only Spanish contribution. for the project.

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Transporting the SLS missile to the launch tower

NASA/Aubrey Geminiani

With the ability to launch payloads of up to 27 tons to the moon and a top speed of more than 36,000 kilometers per hour, the SLS will be the first rocket capable of sending astronauts to the satellite since Saturn V withdrew after the end. From the Apollo program. The height of the first SLS is 98.3 meters lower than that of the Saturn V. But the versions of the SLS in which the astronauts travel will surpass them, reaching 111.5 meters.

This altitude will be exceeded by SpaceX’s Starship rocket, which will reach 120 meters and could be launched for the first time in July. And the As announced this week by Elon Musk in a tweet.

The SLS’s thrust (peaking 39,144 kt) has more thrust than the Saturn V (35,100 kN).

An SLS rocket in a hangar at the Kennedy Space Center

An SLS rocket in a hangar at the Kennedy Space Center

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NASA began developing the SLS in 2011 as a result of the shuttle’s withdrawal, when it was left without its own rocket to send astronauts into space. The working schedule expected a launch for the first time in December 2016, a date which has been repeatedly postponed due to technical and budgetary issues. The cost of the project through 2021 has increased to $23,000 million (adjusted for inflation), 5,000 million more than initially planned through 2017 to reach the first launch.

SLS is reusing some components and concepts from the Shuttle. Among them, lateral motives (or booster ), which was recovered after each launch of the shuttle and some of its parts were reused. Also the big orange central fuel tank, a giant thermos that keeps liquid oxygen at minus 183 degrees and hydrogen at minus 253. and engines at the base of the rocket, which will be reused from the shuttle for the first four launches of the Artemisa program: One of the engines that propelled Pedro Duque on his 1998 Discovery mission will be used on the first flight.

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The SLS rocket and its destination, the Moon, June 15 in the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SLS rocket and its destination, the Moon, June 15 in the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

John Raugh

“This is the first step in getting us back to the Moon,” Jim Frey, NASA’s deputy director for exploration systems development, said at a news conference Wednesday to explain this weekend’s dress rehearsal. Artemis I’s upcoming launch is a test flight. We want to test the heat shield [que protegerá a los astronautas al reentrar en la atmosfera]We want to make sure we get the car back and we want to make sure the systems are working in orbit so that when we get to Artemis II, we can trust sending astronauts. “

Spanish technology in NASA’s rocket

The astronauts who will take off with the SLS will travel in the Orion capsule located on top of the rocket. It is equipped with a service module provided by the European Space Agency. Spain contributes the Thermal Control Unit (UTC), a sophisticated instrument containing 10,000 electronic components that will control the temperature of the astronauts’ cabin and the rest of the service module. It was built at Airbus facilities in Tres Cantos (Community of Madrid). The Coordinated Universal Time, which is about 10 kilograms and 16 liters, will measure temperatures at 235 points in the unit and will control more than a hundred heaters, according to Jesus Ortiz, Airbus’ head of missile products and technical director of the project.