Mega Moon Rocket to take its final test before Artemis I Moon mission

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Mega Moon Rocket with the Orion spacecraft atop arrived at Launch Pad 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for a final test before its Artemis I Moon mission.

The uncrewed flight test for the Mega Moon Rocket will pave the way for missions to land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon under the Artemis I Moon mission.

“From this sacred and historical place, humanity will soon embark on a new era of exploration,” explained Bill Nelson, NASA administrator. “Artemis I will demonstrate NASA’s commitment and capacity to extend humanity’s presence on the Moon – and beyond.”

What is involved in this final test for the Mega Moon Rocket?

The Mega Moon Rocket was tacked on the mobile launcher and mounted on the crawler-transporter for a journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B. It took SLS and Orion approximately 10-hours and 28 minutes to reach the launch pad four miles away. The trip began at 5:47 p.m. 17 March and the 322-foot tall, £3.5m rocket and spacecraft arrived at the pad at 4:15 a.m. on 18 March.

The upcoming final test, known as the wet dress rehearsal, will run the Artemis I launch team through operations to load propellant into the Mega Moon Rocket’s tanks, conduct a full launch countdown, demonstrate the ability to recycle the countdown clock, and drain the tanks to practice the timelines and procedures the team will utilise for launch.

“Rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building is an iconic moment for this rocket and spacecraft, and this is a key milestone for NASA,” said Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Now at the pad for the first time, we will use the integrated systems to practice the launch countdown and load the rocket with the propellants it needs to send Orion on a lunar journey in preparation for launch.”

Before the test, SLS, Orion, and the associated ground systems will undergo checkouts at the pad. After the rehearsal, NASA will review data from the test before setting a specific target launch date for the upcoming Artemis I launch.

Artemis Mission
The Moon is seen rising behind NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Mega Moon Rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard atop a mobile launcher as it rolls out to Launch Complex 39B for the first time, 17 March 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Ahead of NASA’s Artemis I flight test, the fully stacked and integrated SLS Mega Moon Rocket and Orion spacecraft will undergo a wet dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 39B to verify systems and practice countdown procedures for the first launch.

What will be investigated on this Artemis I Moon mission?

The integrated Mega Moon Rocket and spacecraft will roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building several days after the test to remove sensors that were employed during the rehearsal, charge system batteries, stow late-load cargo, and run final checkouts. Orion and SLS will then roll to the launch pad for a final time about a week before launch.

With Artemis, NASA will establish long-term exploration on the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s foundation for deep space exploration.

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