US super-heavy rocket SLS finally made its first flight

(ORDO NEWS) — The launch took place when few believed that it would succeed this year, even in the space industry.

A 12-year, multibillion-dollar expendable rocket program is in danger of becoming obsolete in the face of new, much cheaper designs.

The first test launch – the Artemis I mission – took place on November 16.

The rocket launched the Orion spacecraft into orbit, which, during a 25-day mission, should reach the orbit of the moon, get close to it by 130 kilometers, and then return to Earth.

The total length of the route is around 1.9 million kilometers. All this will happen in a completely unmanned mode to demonstrate the system’s ability to safely deliver astronauts to the same place.

SLS is a super-heavy rocket capable of launching up to 130 tons into orbit (up to 70-105 tons in the first versions), which is close to or more than even SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy , formerly the heaviest flying rocket of earthlings in the 21st century.

The missile is two-stage, but has additional side boosters. Technically, they repeat the Shuttle boosters , but they are modernized and made deliberately disposable with an increase in thrust by 25 percent.

The main rocket engines run on liquid hydrogen and oxygen – this is the RS-25D / E, an upgraded engine, again, from the Shuttles.

Previously, SLS launches were postponed several times precisely because of fuel problems for these engines: hydrogen easily leaks from tanks, and its leaks were the reason for canceling launches.

However, unlike the Shuttles, the SLS was conceived as a one-time use: they did so because the program began 12 years ago, when NASA became disillusioned with reusable designs due to the huge cost and high accident rate of the reusable Shuttles (14 crew members died in them – more than on all other types of manned space vehicles combined).

Since then, SpaceX has convincingly shown that reusable carriers can be cheaper than disposable ones, and at the same time quite safe. It is her ships on her own rockets that are now delivering people to the ISS.

Under these conditions, many American industry observers question the meaningfulness of the SLS program and the Orion manned spacecraft designed for use with this missile.

The fact is that the cost of missions for her is huge. The first launch, according to a NASA audit, will cost $2.2 billion for the SLS rocket itself, another $1 billion for the Orion spacecraft, and another $568 million for ground support for the mission.

The price of even one SLS is equivalent to several dozen launches of the Falcon 9 rocket. Although the payload is several times higher, the cost of removing the load for SpaceX partially reusable carriers is an order of magnitude lower than that of the SLS.

US super heavy rocket SLS finally made its first flight 2
Basic version of the SLS rocket

In addition, Elon Musk’s company is developing a super-heavy Starship that can put at least 100 tons of payload into orbit.

In fact, it is even more cargo-carrying than future versions of the SLS, since its payload does not include the weight of the manned spacecraft (the second stage of the Starship), and the SLS counts the mass of the Orion in its payload.

The expected cost of launching Starship is below $100 million (there are also significantly lower estimates).

Given all these factors, NASA, which previously planned the lunar program exclusively on the SLS, recently signed an agreement with SpaceX, according to which Starship will be used to land astronauts on the moon.

True, Orion launched on SLS will deliver them to the Earth’s satellite – apparently, this is how the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to remove the question of why they spent $ 23 billion on the development of SLS and 26.3 billion on the Orion spacecraft.

That $50 billion is far more than the private company SpaceX has ever invested.

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