(ORDO NEWS) — NASA’s most massive rocket is preparing for a mission to the Moon, and today the Space Launch System (SLS) leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time and heads for the launch pad.
Upon arrival, the engineers began holding a so-called “dress rehearsal” with full fuel tanks before the launch of the Artemis 1 mission, scheduled for May this year.
The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and has been in development for more than a decade as the agency prepares for a new era of deep space exploration. She and the Orion capsule will form the basis of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon and possibly send them far beyond.
After years of careful assembly and testing, the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft were placed on a tracked carrier and moved out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center on March 17. With a top speed of just 1.3 km/h, the 6.4 km trip took several hours.
Dress rehearsal for the launch of a huge rocket
Once the rocket arrived at Launch Complex 39B, engineers began preparing the SLS and Orion for dress rehearsal.
This means pumping over 700,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of cryogenic fuel into the tanks according to the schedule to be used on launch day, and then doing all the elements of the countdown, including weather briefings, deliberate pre-launch delays, removal and replenishment of fuel reserves.
A few days after the dress rehearsal, the rocket and spacecraft will be returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building to remove test sensors, recharge batteries, and complete final pre-launch checks. This event is slated for May, but NASA will first review the final data for the current rehearsal before finalizing a date.
After takeoff, the unmanned Artemis 1 mission will be the first big test for these deep space exploration systems. It will take place over the course of three weeks and send Orion thousands of kilometers around the moon before it returns to Earth – faster than any spacecraft before it.
The Artemis II mission will be the first manned flight of the SLS and Orion and will take astronauts farther than humans have ever been able to reach, some 7,400 km beyond the far side of the Moon.
The goal will be to ensure that all systems are operational in deep space conditions, after which the agency will proceed with a direct landing on the moon as part of the Artemis III mission.
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