After an eleven-hour journey which began around 5:00 PM last evening, SLS now sits serenely on LC-39B for the first time. With the program being announced in 2011, with the first launch set for 2016 things have been delayed. Nine times the program has seen significant delays, adding more than five years the original six-year schedule. All that work has finally paid off for thousands who had a hand in completing this momentous task now that SLS has reached its final destination before leaving Earth. This is the first but won’t be the last time the SLS of Artemis I reaches Launch Complex 39B as teams will conduct a Wet Dress Rehearsal of the vehicle and then return it to High Bay 3 of the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).
What is a Wet Dress Rehearsal you may ask? Well, that’s a practice launch countdown where teams will run through a full launch count down all the way to about nine seconds before liftoff. The core stage will be filled with supercooled liquid hydrogen, and its oxidizer tanks filled with supercooled liquid oxygen. That’s what puts the wet in Wet Dress Rehearsal. This is just one of the many tests and practices the launch team will do right up until the day before launch. Which that day will be announced shortly after the WDR.
Artemis I, formerly called Exploration Mission-1 will be the first test of NASA’s deep space explorations systems. That’s the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System, and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center. This will be the first of several increasingly complex missions. During this mission the Orion spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly further than any spacecraft built to sustain human life has ever flown. Over a four to six weeks’ time, it will travel 280,000 miles as it travels around our Moon and then return back to Earth where it will reenter the atmosphere going Mach 32, or 24,500 mph. “This mission will truly do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known,” said Artemis I mission manager Mike Sarafin. “It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”
Once SLS departs the 39B Launch Complex using its 8.8 million pounds of thrust it will fly for about ninety seconds before reaching the point of greatest atmospheric force. Once passed that point the core stage will jettison its twin solid rocket boosters, service module panels, and launch abort system. The core stage engines will then shut down and separate from the spacecraft. The spacecraft will make an orbit of Earth, deploying its solar arrays and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage will give Orion the needed push to put Earth’s gravity behind it and travel onwards toward the Moon. About two hours after launch Orion will separate from the ICPS and a number of small satellites or CubeSats will be deployed to perform several experiments in space.