KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – The Space Shuttle — the most complex, but not the most powerful, human-rated spacecraft ever built — rumbled and roared off the launch pad and shook the parking lot at the Kennedy Space Center so hard that car alarms went off. The sound of the shuttle traveled as much as 35, even 40 miles inland, if the wind was right.
But the Space Launch System (SLS) heading for the moon on Monday, Aug. 29 for the Artemis I mission will be the most powerful rocket ever to launch by far. It will have nearly double the power that the Space Shuttle had — 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The shuttle had just 5.3 million thrust pounds.
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NASA’s last mega-moon rocket, the Saturn V, which delivered astronauts to the moon in 1969, had 7.5 half million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
The SLS’s rocket boosters each have an additional section compared to the Saturn V’s. And the SLS has four main engines compared to the space shuttle’s three (and those four main engines are actually recycled space shuttle engines).
NASA launch commentator Derrol Nail said the sound will carry farther but it’s difficult to predict how far.
“We’ve never had something this powerful launch before, so we’re in an area where we really don’t know,” Nail said. “What we do know is during space shuttle, which was 5.3 million pounds of thrust, it would set off car alarms in the parking lot. You’d hear them chirping off. That’s here [at the Kennedy Space Center] where we’re about three miles as the crow flies to the pad. So you put that on an order of 50% more powerful and what do you get?”
What you get is several more miles of sound travel, said Dr. Mark Archambault, associate professor of aerospace engineering and dean of academics for the College of Engineering and Science at Florida Institute of Technology.
“Let’s say 45 miles give or take,” Archambault said. “It would be very delayed, the rocket would be well into the sky by the time you hear at that distance.”
As the crow flies, drawing a straight line from launchpad 39B, 45 miles is right at the edge of Downtown Orlando.
It’s also 45 miles to Debary (41 to Sanford) and to the edge of Orange City.
St. Cloud is 46 miles away from the launchpad; Daytona Beach is 45 miles away and so is Grant-Valkaria just south of Palm Bay.
But Archambault said there are conditions.
“Are there any obstacles between the vehicle and the observer, what kind of obstacles?” said Archambault. “Trees are going to absorb and reflect sound differently than buildings will.”
Archambault said the wind also matters — the wind must be blowing in from the Atlantic to carry the sound inland into Central Florida.
NASA has three possible launch dates for this first mission for the Artemis program:
- Aug. 29: Two-hour launch window opens at 8:33 a.m., 42-day mission with an Oct. 10 splashdown
- Sept. 2: Two-hour launch window opens at 12:48 p.m., 39-day mission with an Oct. 11 splashdown
- Sept. 5: One and a half-hour launch window opens at 5:12 p.m., 42-day mission with an Oct. 17 splashdown
When the launch happens, News 6 will stream it live.