Three times is right? NASA tries again to launch SLS rocket on lunar mission

NASA's Space Launch System is on its launch pad for the Artemis 1 lunar mission.  (NASA photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA’s Space Launch System is on its launch pad for the Artemis 1 lunar mission. (NASA photo / Bill Ingalls)

For the third time, NASA is counting down to the first launch of its Space Launch System rocket for an unmanned round-the-moon mission intended to pave the way for future Artemis moon landings.

Launch from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for 1:04 a.m. ET Nov. 16 (10:04 p.m. PT Nov. 15). The 322-foot-tall, 5.5-million-pound SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built for NASA, surpassing the Saturn V.

Forecasters say there’s an 80% chance of acceptable weather during tonight’s two-hour launch window, and no major technical issues were reported during the early stages of the countdown. NASA launch commentator Derrol Nail said the launch team saw “a little bit” of hydrogen leakage during refueling, but nothing unexpected.

If this Artemis 1 mission goes according to plan, the rocket will send an Orion capsule on a weeks-long, looping journey that will get as far as 60 miles to the lunar surface, but also 40,000 miles beyond the moon’s orbit.

Instead of living, breathing astronauts, the capsule’s seats will be filled by three mannequins with sensors that will record what kind of ride future crews might experience. There will also be a modified version of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant on board. Amazon teamed up with Lockheed Martin and Cisco to create the AI ​​agent, known as Callisto, that could serve as a source of information on future missions to the Moon and Mars.

NASA will provide live streaming coverage of the countdown and launch.

Artemis 1 was initially scheduled to launch in August, but refueling problems spoiled the first attempt. Days later, the second attempt was scrubbed due to a nasty hydrogen leak. Since then, plans for a third attempt have been delayed by ongoing technical and weather concerns, including two hurricanes that swept Florida’s Space Coast.

The SLS was brought to safety in the vehicle assembly building for Hurricane Ian in September. But after weighing the risks, NASA chose to leave the rocket on the launch pad last week as Hurricane Nicole passed through.

Part of the seal on a seam in the area around the Orion capsule came loose during the storm and one of the components of an electrical connector suffered damage. After a round of inspections, the mission managers decided it was safe to proceed with the launch.

“Designing for this environment is challenging and our design has stood the test of the storm,” said Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for reconnaissance systems development, said in a pre-launch tweet.

Artemis 1 marks the beginning of a spaceflight more than a decade and billions of dollars in the making. The current plan foresees a 25-day mission, ending December 11 with a landing in the Pacific Ocean.

If this unmanned mission succeeds, it would pave the way for a crewed mission around the moon, known as Artemis 2, in about 2024. NASA plans to land Artemis 3’s astronauts on the lunar surface in 2025, though that date will almost certainly move. Whenever it happens, Artemis 3 would mark the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972 that humans have set foot on the moon – potentially setting the stage for journeys to Mars in the 2030s.

More from GeekWire:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *