NASA's Artemis Program has been in the pipeline for quite some time. And now, we will finally see most potent NASA rocket ship ever constructed, tested for good.
Rockets are fascinating objects. No, we don’t mean the Diwali rockets that sometimes whistle and burst into miniature pollutants. They are puny compared to the mighty supercooled liquid fuel space rockets that set records on the number of people watching their launches being live-streamed.
In fact, Apollo 11 mission remains an iconic moment in broadcasting with an estimated 600-650 million people who tuned in around the world to witness the “Moon Landing”, and Armstrong and Aldrin’s broadcast from the lunar surface on 20th July 1969.
Generally, everybody seems to focus only on the shuttles and the payload during a launch as the rocket (and the boosters) fade into each space mission’s background. But, with the arrival of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket ship, eyeballs are set to turn to the world’s most powerful rocket.
Artemis Program – The NASA Rocket Story
Humans have not set foot on the moon in almost five decades now. The last crewed lunar mission was Apollo 17, which took place in 1972. It was a record-breaking endeavour and created numerous benchmarks during its 12-day mission. But once NASA ended the Apollo missions, no country ever prodded the possibility of revisiting the moon.
That is not to say that were no projects around lunar exploration. India’s first-ever moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, was launched in 2008 and was the country’s first foray into exploring celestial objects. Following the satellite’s unexpected failure and the subsequent closure, India launched Chaandrayaan-2 in 2019. This time, a lander and rover element was attached to the payload, but technical issues resulted in the crash of the lander and the rover.
NASA is once again setting the international stage as it contemplates a lunar project that would take not just man, but humanity to the moon. Officially announced in 2012 and started in 2017, the Artemis Program aims to land “the first woman and the next man” (their line, not ours) on the moon and initiate a colonisation attempt on the moon. This also introduced the Artemis Accords, membership to which is still up for grabs for many countries.
SLS – The Most Powerful Rocket Yet
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket ship is the most anticipated NASA project in recent times. The rocket has been designed with one primary purpose — to get humans to the moon most quickly and efficiently. And thankfully, the scientists at NASA have managed to accomplish that quite well. The SLS is a few metres shorter than the Saturn V rocket used for Apollo missions but is theoretically more potent than it.
Although a little smaller than Saturn V, the SLS stands at 98m tall, Saturn V being 110m tall, and is considerably more significant than a conventional space shuttle. Moreover, it has a higher payload capacity than any shuttle ever created and offers 15% more thrust than the Apollo rockets. Although the payload capacity will increase, it is still unclear how much more (compared to existing rockets) can the SLS exactly carry.
Once completed and with everything on track, the SLS will have a carrying capacity of 24,000 kgs to the moon. In comparison, the Space Shuttle can only carry 22,000 kgs at maximum. Although the Saturn V rockets boast a slightly higher carrying capacity than the SLS, but the fact that the SLS is smaller, and has less wastage in terms of boosters and the rocket stages, fare it better than its predecessor. In effect, SLS is the most efficient rocket in this segment.
The Green Run Checklist
As a part of the Artemis Program, the ‘Green Run Checklist’ is a step-by-step guide created by NASA to study, develop and test the SLS. This is an 8-part procedure with seven steps already done. NASA recently completed the 7th step, on 20th December 2020 to be precise, which included the fuel tank and capacity test.
The rocket tank was filled with 70,000 gallons (almost 265,000 litres) of supercooled liquid hydrogen fuel and then wholly drained as well. The test was a success, and only the final step remains- the rocket itself.
As the final step, NASA will statically launch the rocket. This means that the rocket will be ignited but won’t travel anywhere. Placed horizontally on the ground at their testing facility over at Stennis Space Center, Mississippi and affectionately called “fire” by the scientists, the final test will take place on 17th January 2021. This may or may not change, due to the unforeseen obstacles, if any.
The moment the 8th test begins, we will officially have the most powerful rocket in existence. Keep an eye out on NASA’s YouTube channel, and you may catch the live stream.
The Artemis Project marks the start of the space colonisation era. We might even see the first lunar base inhabited by humans by 2034. Exploring the moon and its geological components will be the early stage in the in-depth space exploration that will be done in humans’ presence.
All considered, the interstellar curiosity and a booming industry point towards “giant leaps” in space exploration, maybe even more significant than what Niel Armstrong imagined.