A scorched platform, fried cameras, broken pipes and a broken elevator were among the victims of NASA’s SLS rocket launch last week. Mobile Launcher 1 and Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center will require repairs, but NASA says they will be ready for the next Artemis mission.
Space Launch System, or SLS, took off in the early hours of Wednesday, November 16, sending the Orion capsule on a 25.5-day journey to the Moon and back. It was a perfect launch, and NASA said so. Preliminary data from the Artemis 1 flight indicates that SLS performed as well as or even exceeded expectations, Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters yesterday.
SLS performance deviations were less than 0.3% across the board, and the rocket missed NASA’s target orbital insertion by just 3 nautical miles, according to Sarafin. He reminded reporters that the SLS exerted 8.8 million pounds of thrust on takeoff, and that the fact that the SLS deviated 7 feet per second is still “remarkable” in terms of accuracy. “The results were stunning,” he added.
Kennedy Space Center photojournalists were ordered to do not take photos of Launch Complex 39B for security reasons (i.e. ITAR restrictions; NASA says the photos of the umbilical plates now on display would represent a security breach), and possibly because NASA doesn’t want to promote the fact that its launch tower was damaged.
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At a Friday press briefing, Sarafin admitted that the mobile launch tower suffered damage from the launch, which produced temperatures in excess of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. “We expected to find pad damage, and we are seeing pad damage,” Sarafin said.
During a press conference held yesterday, the mission management team provided more details and some visuals that detailed the extent of the damage. In addition to new scorch marks on the tower and missing paint on its deck, a number of protective cameras were burned and some nitrogen and helium supply lines sustained minor damage. Sarafin said the tower’s elevator blast doors were torn off by the rocket’s shock wave, so “at this time the elevators are unusable and we need to return them to service.” All told, the damage “that we’ve seen is really only in a few areas,” he said, adding that the SLS is largely a “very clean system.”
At the same time, the deluge system “did a great job” and the tail mast service umbilicals were “clean inside”, Sarafin explained. He added that repairs are needed, but he is confident that everything will be ready for the Artemis 2 crewed mission in 2024. That may seem like a long time, but stacking operations for the next mission will probably have to start this year. next.
The mission management team seemed largely unfazed, and it’s entirely possible that the damage was indeed minimal or at least manageable. It may also be true that NASA is doing its best to minimize any damage induced by its newfound pride and joy. Opinions posted on Twitter varied, with some saying the damage is far worse than NASA is willing to admitwith others saying damage isn’t a big deal and that’s it’s all part of the engineering process. Indeed, surprises are to be expected when launching the most powerful rocket in the world, but if the damage is worse than NASA leads us to believe, then they should admit it.
Back at the lunar ranch, the unmanned Orion capsule continues to do its job. The spaceship made a close flyby of the Moon yesterday as it steadily progresses into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. Orion will complete its 25.5-day mission in December 11, when it attempts atmospheric re-entry to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Artemis 1 is the first in what NASA hopes will be a series of missions aimed at establishing a permanent human presence in the lunar environment.
After: What’s next for the Orion spacecraft as it heads for the Moon
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