NASA will roll its Space Launch System back out to the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday to prepare for a third attempt to put its most powerful rocket yet into the sky on November 14.
The rocket has remained in the hangar to shelter from Hurricane Ian, which struck the coast of Florida late September. Engineers have worked to repair and replace components to make sure the vehicle is in tip-top condition to fly to the Moon during its first test flight.
They’re ready to wheel the SLS back out onto the launchpad tomorrow at 0001 EDT (0501 UTC). Transporting such a hefty, expensive bit of equipment for the four-mile journey from the hangar to the launchpad is a tricky and delicate business. The process is expected to take about ten hours and NASA intends to livestream every painstaking moment.
Jim Free, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, told a Thursday a briefing that the agency’s teams have recharged or replaced batteries powering the heavy-launch vehicle’s booster, core and Orion capsule. Hardware components like transducers and other parts in its flight termination system have also been restored.
NASA previously fixed issues causing hydrogen propellant to leak during the refueling process. The leakage caused officials to scrub the SLS’s launch twice so far over fears of a failed launch. Free said he was confident the space agency would get to see the rocket blast into space soon, considering there are two back up dates on 16 and 19 November should the launch on 14 November be scrubbed.
NASA will have a 69-minute launch window starting at 0007 EST (0507 UTC). If the flight succeeds, the SLS will send the Orion capsule into lunar orbit where it will spend about 25 days in space before splashing back down to Earth on December 9.
Free said the mission was a stepping stone towards human exploration of Mars. “What we’re really hoping to discover is the history of the Moon and how that relates to the history of Earth. And what we can learn about terrestrial planet formation and evolution. We’re going to do that by putting robotic missions and humans on the surface of the Moon, and doing strategic science. While we’re there we’re going to operate systems in a partial gravity environment. That will help us learn how to operate in an environment which is very similar to Mars.” ®