Nasa assembles £13.18 billion ‘megarocket’ Space Launch System ahead of moon launch in November
Nasa has put the finishing touches on its next-generation ‘megarocket’, the £13.18 billion Space Launch System (SLS), which will ferry astronauts to the moon and back in 2024.
Set for its first test launch in November of this year, SLS will propel the unmanned Orion capsule past the moon and back, as part of Nasa’s lunar Artemis missions.
Last week, Nasa engineers lowered the 212ft long core stage to rest between two booster rockets, the first time the rocket has been in its launch configuration since the project’s announcement in 2011.
The finished set-up, which required a specialised crane to lift the 85 ton core stage, now sits ready for launch in Nasa’s Florida spaceport’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
The core stage, which consists of four engines and multiple propellant tanks, will provide 2 million pounds of thrust on its own, equal to about 40 Boeing 747 jet engines.
Combined with the two boosters, the SLS rocket will provide nearly 9 million pounds of thrust in total, enough to reach the moon later this year.
Artemis-1, the first of several lunar missions culminating in a moon landing in 2024, will see the Orion crew capsule go into lunar orbit.
The Nasa team now need to add the final rocket elements and carry out testing inside the VAB before the Orion capsule is added and the vehicle moved to the launchpad.
SLS is currently sitting on the mobile launcher, a vast movable platform that will supply power, communications, coolands and propellant for the rocket before takeoff.
The core engines were tested in March for eight minutes, roughly the same time it takes for the SLS to escape the Earth’s orbit and into space.
The Artemis crew, when they do finally climb into Orion, will be a different looking crew from the all-white, male crew of the 1960s Apollo missions – Artemis will land the first woman and person of colour on the moon.
Nasa’s lunar mission aims to establish sustainable exploration in preparation for later manned missions to Mars.
The lunar landing mission, which will take place in 2024, aims to propel astronauts in Orion until they reach lunar orbit, after which they will dock with Nasa’s Gateway craft, and be taken to the moon’s surface in a lander.
SLS is the only rocket currently capable of sending Orion, astronauts and supplies to the moon in a single mission, says Nasa.