NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) mega rocket is ready to carry out manned trips after having shown satisfactory results in its first test. The SLS is the powerful aircraft that launched the Artemis 1 mission into orbit on November 16th 2022, and that will also propel the next planned expeditions with humans to the Moon.
More than a month and a half after the Orion capsule splashed down in the Pacific following completion of its visit to the Moon, NASA announced that the spacecraft met or exceeded all post-launch performance expectations.
Prior to launch, teams established benchmarks for the rocket’s performance through a series of pre-flight simulations and test campaigns. During launch and ascent into space, the rocket experienced dynamic phases, such as extreme forces and temperatures, which influenced its performance. The Artemis 1 flight test was the only way to collect real data on the rocket’s behavior in situations such as propellant separation.
NASA’s SLS rocket has laid the foundation for the Artemis Generation and the future of spaceflight in deep space.John Honeycutt, SLS Program manager
Engineers at the SLS Engineering and Support Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center collected more than four terabytes of data and images aboard SLS during the pre-launch and launch phases. In addition, a total of approximately 31 terabytes of image data was collected from ground cameras alone, cameras on the rocket, and aerial cameras focusing on the SLS. By comparison, the printed material in the US Library of Congress takes up about 20 terabytes.
Cameras and sensors also allowed teams to monitor the rocket’s behavior during its maneuvers in space. Seeing the launch from the SLS rocket’s “view” involved strategically placing cameras, sensors and other measurement tools along the rocket, mobile launcher and launch pad.
Engineers also monitored temperature extremes and sounds experienced by the rocket just after liftoff. SLS post-flight data have shown that the thrust and mixture ratio control valves on the RS-25 engines were within 0.5 percent of predicted values.
The data we obtained from Artemis I is crucial to build confidence in this rocket to send mankind back to the Moon.John Blevins, SLS chief engineer
The mixture ratio is the ratio of fuel to oxidizer that determines the temperature and thrust coming from the engines throughout their eight-minute flight. All other internal engine pressures and temperatures were within 2% of pre-flight predicted values.
In flight, the SLS core stage successfully executed all of its functions and inserted the ICPS and the Orion spacecraft into an initial 972.1-mile by 16-mile Earth orbit. The insertion was only 2.9 miles short of the perfect target of 975 miles by 16 miles and within acceptable parameters. After a near-perfect translunar injection, ICPS and the Orion spacecraft successfully separated, allowing Orion to complete a 25.5-day mission.
With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the first black person on the surface of the Moon – expected in 2025 – paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a springboard for astronauts on their way to Mars.