NASA is completing the assembly of the main stage of its super-rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). It is due to fly in November 2024, in order to transport a crew around the Moon.
Time flies. November 16, 2022, the Artemis I mission was successfully torn off of terrestrial attraction, for a 25-day odyssey around the Moon. At the end of this trip, the Orion capsule returned to Earth, landing in the Atlantic Ocean. It was then an adventure without anyone on board. Today, all of NASA’s thoughts are focused on Artemis II.
However, this next step – which consists of reproducing the flight of Artemis I, but this time with an on-board crew – will ultimately arrive quite quickly. Indeed, the American space agency is counting on a takeoff of the Space Launch System (SLS), the name of its rocket, in November 2024. Barring any twists and turns, we are therefore a little over a year away from D-Day.
The agency, in fact, communicates extensively on Artémis II, to provide news on the progress of the project. At the end of September, an important phase in the design of the new launcher was completed, with the assembly of the four engines inside the main stage of the lunar rocket. The construction site spread throughout the month.
According to NASA, it now remains for NASA’s two private partners, Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne, ” to completely fix the engines on the stage and integrate the propulsion systems and electronics into the structuree “. These are very proven engines. The model in question, RS-25, was called into question in 1981 with the American space shuttle program.
In fact, the RS-25 engines are engines that have already passed the baptism of fire of astronaut transport. These are similar examples which will therefore be mobilized for the manned flight of Artemis II – in fact, they are for single use: new ones must be made each time. According to NASA, requested by Ars Technicathe central stage of the SLS will be finalized in December.
Preparation of the rocket, the capsule, the crew, the launch pad
In addition to the installation of the lunar rocket, other segments are also in active preparation. The Orion capsule, which will be the living space for the astronauts during this space journey, received at the beginning of the summer its heat shield (which will be very practical during its atmospheric re-entry, during the return flight) and passed acoustic tests during August.
It is also during the summer that driving tests took place, by moving the transport platform which will accommodate the SLS when the day comes. It is this structure that brings energy, fuel, coolant and communications to the rocket and capsule before takeoff. This is the umbilical cord of the launcher with the ground equipment.
As for the crew, revealed last April, he continues his training. Three of the four members of Artemis II are already experienced, thanks to NASA missions within the International Space Station, which allows them to focus on much more specific teaching – They now only have one year left to be ready.
In September, an important milestone was reached with the demonstration of the procedures to which the crew will be subjected on launch day. It is the first of seven stages regarding the preparation of ground systems. These will require a few months to be fully completed. This includes filling operations and safety procedures.
NASA is also benefiting from the Artemis I mission, which went very well and which allowed him to recover valuable data in real conditions. After Artemis II, which should last ten daysthe space agency has many other flights on its schedule, including well beyond 2030. This is NASA’s key program at the moment: bring humans back to the Moon.