NASA’s first step on the landing “Space Launch System” rocket launch delayed again
In August 2022, NASA once again postponed the launch of its “Space Launch System” (SLS) heavy rocket. SLS is a key component of the Artemis moon landing program.
Today, NASA is continuing to gather data to understand why the RS-25 engine was not successfully raised to the proper temperature range for liftoff, missing the launch window.
It is understood that NASA will try to launch the SLS again at noon EST on September 2. If it still fails, the third launch window will be on September 5th locally.
But if all three launch dates prove unsuccessful, NASA may have to retest the SLS’s flight termination system. The system is used to destroy rockets before and during launch if something goes catastrophically wrong, and it’s a job that can only be done in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
It is understood that the flight termination system has a 20-day time limit, which means that once the SLS is rolled out from the VAB, it must be launched within 20 days. Otherwise return to VAB to check the flight termination system again. If so, the SLS will likely not be ready to fly again until late October.
Next, if the SLS can finally be successfully launched, it will push the Orion spacecraft on board to the Earth-Moon transfer orbit to officially launch the first phase of the Artemis program (Artemis 1) mission (the round trip takes about 40 days ).
It is reported that the current Artemis plan is divided into three parts. The main goal of the unmanned Artemis 1 mission is to test the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield to ensure it can withstand the extreme heat when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. It will also orbit the moon and test critical systems such as life support and navigation.
Artemis 2 is planned to be executed in 2024. At that time, several (or 4) astronauts will fly around the moon on the Orion spacecraft to collect various data to evaluate the readiness to send people to the lunar surface degree. The mission is expected to last 8 to 10 days, but it may be extended to about 20 days depending on the mission objectives.
Artemis 3 plans to officially send humans to the moon in 2025. To land astronauts on the moon from lunar orbit, NASA would use the Human Landing System (HLS) developed by SpaceX or another company. That is, the astronauts first transfer from the Orion spacecraft to the HLS in orbit, and then perform the landing mission.
The mission’s primary goal is to place two people at the lunar south pole, while two others remain on the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit. NASA also named the landing site “Artemis Base Camp”.
It is worth noting that although NASA plans to land on the moon in 2025, it is understood that this node may be delayed by “a few years”. Whether the Artemis 3 mission can be successfully implemented depends on many factors such as the implementation of the first two missions and the development of the new spacesuit (slow progress), as well as the development progress of the HLS.
Following the Artemis 3 mission, NASA has also planned follow-up missions to establish a permanent residence on the moon, including Artemis 4, which will launch in 2027 to help establish the lunar orbiting space station “Gateway” . The three landing missions of Artemis 6-8 are scheduled for 2029, 2030 and 2031 respectively.
However, due to the high degree of uncertainty of Artemis 3, the above plans are subject to change at any time.
Additionally, the Artemis program is led by NASA but involves dozens of other agencies. For example, Canada may carry out Gateway repair and maintenance work, the European Space Agency is also involved in the construction of the Orion spacecraft and Gateway, Japan has also reached a cooperation agreement with NASA on 5G networks and lunar vehicles, SpaceX and Blue Origin is also both developing a crewed landing system for landing on the moon. These will affect the specific progress of NASA’s moon landing.
Finally, back to the original issue of the SLS rocket, it is also the starting point and key point of the entire moon landing mission, and is the main launch vehicle for NASA’s deep space exploration program in the 2020s.
It is understood that the SLS was conceived in 2010 and initially promised to fly by the end of 2016, but the target date has been pushed back at least 16 times. Its cost has also risen again and again. A recent budget estimate put the rocket’s first four flights at $4.1 billion each, and long-term operating costs remain a mystery. And its R&D cost is more than $10 billion more than the original one.
This situation has led to much skepticism about SLS, with critics arguing that it should be replaced by more cost-effective methods, especially those proposed by more nimble commercial companies.
Currently, SLS is being developed in three main phases, Block 1, Block1B and Block 2, and its functions are continuously enhanced. SLS Block 1 will launch the first three Artemis missions, the next five SLS flights are planned to use Block 1B, and all subsequent flights will use Block 2.
It is worth mentioning that SLS may be the last rocket developed by NASA, and future rocket demand missions may be entirely performed by commercial companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin.