NASA Launches World’s Most Powerful Rocket, Orion Spacecraft

NASA launched the most powerful rocket in the world, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, on Wednesday, November 16, as part of its Artemis I mission. Artemis I, the first uncrewed flight of NASA’s Artemis Program, took off from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 1:47 am EST (12:17 pm IST) on Wednesday. The SLS rocket blasted off into space with the uncrewed Orion spacecraft atop it. Artemis I was delayed multiple times due to reasons such as technical problems in the SLS rocket and hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

Timeline of events after launch

The solid rocket boosters of the SLS rocket successfully jettisoned a few minutes after launch. The SLS core stage continued to fire until eight minutes after launch. 

Next, the service module fairing, which protects the service module (spacecraft component containing support systems and equipment important for various operations), and the launch abort system, separated from the Orion spacecraft. 

The SLS core stage main engine cut off was completed, and the core stage separated from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (liquid oxygen-based or liquid hydrogen-based system in a rocket) and Orion spacecraft. 

Orion spacecraft’s solar arrays have completed their deployment, and are drawing power. The solar arrays are performing well, early data suggests. 

According to NASA, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage completed its approximately 18-minute trans-lunar injection (TLI) burn, and the Orion spacecraft separated from the stage, by around 2:12 pm IST. The spacecraft fired its auxiliary thrusters to move a safe distance away from the expended stage. Now, Orion is on its way to the Moon.

All about Artemis I

The first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, Artemis I is an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration. Artemis I took off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

The Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and the ground systems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are the US space agency’s deep space exploration systems. 

The Artemis project, the first human moon mission since 1972, aims to carry the first woman, and the first person of colour to the Moon, by 2024. 

The first spaceflight that landed humans on the lunar surface was Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, and the last one was Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972. 

Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon in Greek Mythology, after whom NASA’s upcoming Moon mission has been named, was the twin sister of Apollo. 

The objective behind the Artemis Mission is that it will enable NASA to demonstrate new technologies on the Moon, which will pave the way for future exploration of Mars. 

The Artemis Mission has three stages, Artemis I, II, and III. 

NASA’s massive SLS rocket and Orion Space Capsule will carry astronauts into lunar orbit. From there, SpaceX’s Human Lander System (HLS) will ferry the astronauts to the Moon’s icy south pole. 

Orion was carried atop the super-heavy lift rocket, SLS. If Artemis I is successful, it will be certified that the SLS and Orion can be used for the other two Artemis missions, which will be crewed flights. 

Artemis I will demonstrate the performance of both Orion and SLS and test NASA’s capabilities to orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The first uncrewed test flight of the Artemis Program will pave the way for future missions to the lunar vicinity, including landing the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface of the Moon. 

The objective of Artemis I is to set the stage for human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar exploration missions and to other destinations farther from Earth, including the Red Planet.

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