In the sixties we had Apollo, now the next era of space flight is beginning to come together with Artemis. The daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo, Artemis according to Greek mythology could be kind and loving, but also cold and vengeful. She hated to lose, and became the protector of nature, children, and females. It’s only fitting for her to carry the first woman to the moon.
Inside the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) the first Artemis rocket, the SLS (Space Launch System) has started it’s assembly on top of one of the mobile launch platforms, the same that carried the Saturn V’s and Space Shuttles. After years of refitting to hold what will be the largest most powerful rocket to ever launch from Earth the ground systems are ready, and the rocket itself is almost ready as well with the Solid Rocket Boosters being stacked first. But really before we can get into what Artemis will do lets look at the actually VAB itself to better understand what is taking place inside there. Construction finished on the VAB in 1966 as it was built to stack and hold the Saturn V rocket before it was rolled out to the launch pad. It has four bays with four doors, each door 456ft tall. These doors are compromised of seven vertical and four horizontal panels and are the worlds tallest doors. How long do they take to open, a full forty-five minutes. When the Saturn V rocket stood fully erect on the mobile launch platform there was only six feet clearance between the rocket and the top of the door. The building itself is 526ft tall and the worlds largest single story building. Single story, That’s right, though there are numerous platforms and walk ways all the way to the top the building had to be relatively spacious to move and house all those rockets and their components. How do they move all those extra large components around? well overhead there are four bridge cranes, with two of them able to lift up to 325 tons. The average elephant weight seven tons, that means these two cranes can each lift forty-two elephants at once. There are also 126 other lifting devices of various sorts inside. The building is actually so tall and spacious that it can form it’s own weather patterns and create it’s own rain inside. NASA ended up with about ten thousand pounds of air conditioning equipment to negate the humidity and rain issues that employees inside were having. The picture below is the entire VAB building, but with no real frame of reference try to use these facts about the building to help gain further understand of just how large it is: Yankee stadium, with the parking lot can fit on the roof. Three and a half Empire State Buildings (by volume) can fit inside. Each of the stars on the flag is six feet across, and the whole blue section of the flag is an NBA court.
photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS
After the Apollo mission came decades of the Space Shuttle. Again integrated to it’s external fuel tanks and SRB’s and stacked on the mobile crawler before launch the VAB was used for every mission as the final stop before the launch pad. Ending in 2011, the VAB has been used for various other things and even a private corporation was renting space for a launch vehicle before it’s cancellation in 2020. During this time though systems inside were being changed and fitted for the Artemis program. The program is a U.S. government funded international human space flight venture with the goal of landing the next man, and first woman on the Moon by 2024.
The astronauts will sit inside the capsule on top of the SLS (Space Launch System) which as a U.S. super heavy, expendable launch vehicle that has been under development since 2011 and is capable of bringing 95 tons, or 209,000lbs to low Earth orbit. This system when fully assembled will sit 365ft tall and the core stage alone is 28ft in diameter. It’s compromised of two stages and will also have twin five segmented solid rocket boosters attached to the side of the core booster. This system gives ten percent more thrust than the Saturn V rocket making it the most powerful launch system in history. That core stage, when sitting empty, will weigh in at 187,990 lb and will hold four RS-25D/E engines. The very same engines that have flown on Space Shuttles previously. This stage standing at 212ft tall will provide 1,670,000 lbs of thrust during 480 second burn. The twin Solid Rocket Boosters will stand at 177ft each and provide 6,560,000 lbf at sea level. These will burn for 126 seconds before being jettisoned from the rest of the launch vehicle.
Since the fuel inside the Solid Rocket Boosters is only good for one year once the stacking has started NASA must be feeling confident the entire system will be ready in time. Plagued by governmental budget issues, primarily being over budget by the billions, and more recently the crew capsule having a major issue with some of the internal components, the SLS has seen its share of delays. When the program started the original plan to be on the Moon in 2028. The Orion capsule flew back in 2014 atop an ULA (United Launch Alliance) Delta IV Heavy rocket bringing excitement to the people in thinking we are getting close, it is no more than six years later and we’ve seen nothing fly, or be ready to fly again. In 2019 shock waves were sent through out the space industry when Vice President Mike Pence moved up the timeline, stating we would return to the Moon by any means necessary by 2024. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine stated if that were to even be remotely possible the agency would need 3.3 billion dollars. They got 850 million, well short of the requested funds it seems clear we will not see another man, or the first woman on the Moon in 2024. But by the end of 2021 we should see the first flight of Artemis, and with that hopefully we will see the people and the government have their faith restored and funds secured to continue our goal to explore the cosmos.