KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Against the night sky, NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket, with Orion on top, successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center early Wednesday following multiple setbacks of the Artemis I mission.
Despite the holdups, NASA was finally able to send the SLS rocket on its 26-day mission from Launch Pad 39B at 1:47 a.m. Wednesday.
The two-hour launch window opened at 1:04 a.m., though NASA placed a planned hold on the launch for T-10 minutes after the launch team experienced several technical issues.
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While the upper-stage liquid oxygen fast fill was completed Tuesday evening, a leak prompted NASA crews to stop the flow of liquid hydrogen to the core stage, according to the agency. NASA stated that teams discussed a plan to send a crew to the pad to torque packing peanuts at the base of the mobile launcher.
The crew was given the go-ahead to enter the launch pad to tighten bolts on a valve on the mobile launcher at 10 p.m., NASA said. At 11:11 p.m., NASA said that the team managed to successfully complete their work on the launch pad, allowing crews to continue replenishing liquid hydrogen levels in the rocket’s core stage.
At about 11:30 p.m., NASA officials announced that they were currently “no-go” for the launch after the Space Force Eastern Range lost data from a critical radar system due to a bad ethernet switch. Crews continued replenishing liquid hydrogen levels as technicians worked to replace the switch, officials added.
At 12:31 a.m., a planned hold was announced by NASA for T-10 minutes at 12:31 a.m. Officials said the upper stage liquid hydrogen was 78% filled, the core stage was being topped off and the ethernet switch was successfully replaced.
At 12:48 a.m., NASA officials said the launch team was working to determine a new launch time as the upper-stage liquid hydrogen was topped.
At 1:36 a.m., NASA announced that they would resume the countdown at T-10 minutes with no further constraints to launch.
Brevard County officials said public parks were packed ahead of the Artemis launch. They advised that people avoid Rotary Riverfront, Parrish, Max Brewer Bridge, Sand Point Park and Veterans Memorial Park due to the crowds.
Weather conditions were 90% favorable during the launch window, with the primary concern being the potential for thick clouds.
The stacked configuration stayed on the launch pad during Hurricane Nicole, suffering minor damage due to the Category 1 storm. Hurricane Nicole’s high winds caused a 10-foot (3-meter) section of caulking to peel away near the capsule at the top of the rocket last Thursday. The material tore away in small pieces, rather than one big strip, mission manager Mike Sarafin said.
NASA engineers said they found a sensor in the caulk-like RTV insulation that was damaged during Hurricane Nicole, which could rip away during ascent, but they added it posed no additional risk and was not considered a problem.
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The launch was the first test flight for the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — and NASA will attempt to keep the capsule in lunar orbit.
Two previous launch attempts had been called off, on Aug. 29 due to a faulty temperature sensor and on Sept. 4 due to a liquid hydrogen leak, NASA said.
Engineers never determined what caused the dangerous hydrogen fuel leaks during the two late summer launch attempts, but the launch team was confident that slowing the flow rate would put less pressure on the sensitive fuel line seals and keep any leakage within acceptable limits, according to Jeremy Parsons, a deputy program manager.
After the rocket launched, law enforcement and transportation officials implemented a plan to move traffic smoothly out of the northern part of the county.
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 would go off. The sound of the shuttle traveled as much as 35, even 40 miles inland, if the wind was right.
However, the SLS rocket is the most powerful rocket ever to launch by far. It has 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. NASA launch commentator Derrol Nail said the sound from the SLS would carry farther, but that it was difficult to predict how far.
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At 9 a.m., NASA performed an outbound trajectory correction burn as the uncrewed Orion capsule continued its flight. The operation was needed to ensure the spacecraft is on the right path to the moon after the SLS rocket’s Trans-Lunar Injection burn got it out of Earth’s orbit, according to the agency.
Artemis is the long-awaited NASA program to take Americans back to the moon and possibly to Mars. The uncrewed first mission hopes to see the Orion spacecraft circle the moon before returning to Earth.
If the first mission is successful, it will be followed by a crewed test mission that will also orbit the moon. If that mission is successful, Artemis III’s goal will be to land on the moon.