NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission is back at the launch pad.
Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida began rolling the Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped by an Orion crew capsule — out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) around 12:10 a.m. EDT (0410 GMT) Monday morning (June 6), once again taking the mega moon rocket on the 4-mile (6.4 kilometers) trek to historic Launch Complex 39B.
The overnight journey took about 10 hours, with Artemis 1 arriving at the pad just before 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Now, the vehicle stack and ground systems await another attempt to fuel the rocket and simulate a launch countdown for a critical series of tests known as a wet dress rehearsal, which is expected to begin on June 19.
Artemis 1 will be the highly anticipated debut voyage for SLS, whose development has been marked by multiple delays and cost overruns. (Orion has flown once before, on a trip to Earth orbit in 2014.)
The mission will fly an uncrewed Orion around the moon and back in preparation for future Artemis missions, which aim to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972. So NASA is taking every precaution to ensure the rocket’s debut is successful, including opting to scrub the first wet dress rehearsal in April to allow time for further maintenance after three failed attempts to load the SLS with cryogenic fuel.
Artemis 1’s first rollout from the VAB to Pad 39B took place March 17, followed by a wet dress rehearsal that began April 1. Unable to complete the full gamut of tests, NASA made the decision to roll the vehicle and its mobile launch platform (MLP) back to the VAB for repairs on April 25. Technicians addressed the root causes of the initial wet dress scrub, and they also used the time in the VAB to accelerate the implementation of other scheduled upgrades.
During the first wet dress try, ground teams ran into problems with loading fuel into the SLS’ Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which is responsible for Orion’s orbital insertion and trans-lunar injection burns. Loose flange bolts contributed to a hydrogen leak in the umbilical lines connecting the MLP to the ICPS. NASA’s investigation revealed that the seals for those bolts deteriorated to a certain amount as they aged and implemented torque checks to tighten the affected hardware.
Other repairs were also aimed at addressing SLS’ cryo-loading issues. A helium check valve was replaced on the ICPS, and modifications were made to the umbilical boots responsible for the quick disconnect of the MLP arms from SLS during liftoff.
With the Artemis 1 stack absent from Pad 39B over the last five weeks, upgrades at the launch complex were able to move forward ahead of schedule. Most notably, the NASA contractor supplying the infrastructure that handles and provides gaseous nitrogen at the launch pad was able to nearly double the facility’s capacity by adding a second method to produce the gas.
Huge amounts of gaseous nitrogen are used during the wet dress rehearsal as well as the launch itself. For one, the gas is cycled through all of the fuel tanks and hoses on the rocket and ground infrastructure to help purge the vessel’s cavities before and after fueling. The new upgrades will allow systems to reach their full design capacities and facilitate fueling tests of up to 32 hours, NASA officials said.
The upcoming wet dress rehearsal for Artemis 1 is slated to kick off on June 19 and last about 48 hours. The countdown simulation will see the rocket through actual pre-flight and fueling procedures to the moment just before engine ignition.
Related: Every mission to the moon
Ground teams at KSC will coordinate with staff in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as well the Space Force Eastern Range at Florida’s Cape Canaveral to conduct loading operations for over 700,000 gallons (2.65 million liters) of cryogenic fuel between the rocket and launch pad infrastructure.
A series of countdown rehearsals, holds and aborts, as well as different simulated weather scenarios will test ground teams’ abilities to load and unload propellants through a number of different launch conditions. Several days after a successful wet dress, teams will roll the SLS and Orion back to the VAB to analyze testing data, determine the vehicle’s flight readiness and hopefully begin preparing the rocket for an actual launch.
Officials at NASA have refrained from picking a firm date for the Artemis 1 mission, citing the need to review the outcome of the wet dress rehearsal, but have voiced optimism for a late-August window, which might just be possible if everything goes smoothly over the next few weeks. Should SLS hit any additional snags, NASA has preemptively published a list of future launch opportunities that run through 2023.
See A Jaw-Dropping Crescent Moon, 50 Meteors And Hour And Our Billion-Star Milky Way: What You Can See In The Night Sky This Week – Forbes
Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To See In The Night Sky This Week: June 27-July 3, 2022
It’s not easy going stargazing in summer at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. The nights are just so short. The best reason to stay up late and go somewhere dark is the sight of the spiral arms of our Milky Way galaxy arcing across the night sky. Look to the southeast and south for that this month—and this week in particular, which will be largely moonless.
When our satellite does emerge from its New Moon conjunction with the Sun expect lush views of a slender crescent Moon. Who said summer was no good for stargazing?
Monday, June 27, 2022: Boötids meteor shower and a crescent Moon meets Mercury
The June Boötids meteor shower—occasionally called the June Draconids or Boötid-Draconids meteor shower—runs annually between June 22 and July 2, but peaks in the early hours of June 27, 2020.
If you are out stargazing late tonight keep an eye out for the 50 or so “shooting stars” per hour expected. The shower’s radiant point—the apparent source of the shooting stars—is the constellation of Boötes.
If you’re still up before dawn you might just catch the planet Mercury just 3.9º from an incredibly slender 2.6% crescent Moon, but be very careful if you use binoculars to help you because the rising Sun is NOT something you want in your field of view.
Tuesday, June 30, 2022: A super-slim crescent Moon and ‘Asteroid Day’
Today is Asteroid Day. With any luck there won’t be anything to see hurtling towards (or even smashing into) our planet, but it’s a good chance to consider the threat posed to Earth of incoming space rocks. What’s really going to change everything is the Vera Rubin Observatory, which from 2022 will deploy a wide-angle camera to map the night sky in real-time—and identify many thousands of hitherto unfound asteroids.
Friday, July 1, 2022: ‘Earthshine’ on a crescent Moon
You should get a much clearer view of a crescent Moon today. Now 8% illuminated, in a clear sky it will be a stunning sight, not least because you’ll be able to see sunlight being reflected onto the Moon by the Earth as “Earthshine” or “planet-shine.” It’s a subtle sight, but once seen cannot be unseen; look at the Moon’s darkened limb with your eyes, or better still, with a pair of binoculars, to appreciate this fine sight.
As a bonus it will be just 3.5° from the Beehive Cluster, though you’ll need a pair of binoculars to see its 30 or so easily visible stars.
Saturday, July 2, 2022: ‘Earthshine’ on a crescent Moon and Regulus
Tonight just after sunset look west for a 14% crescent Moon, once again displaying Earthshine. The stars around it will be those of the “sickle” in the constellation of Leo. The brightest, about 5º left of the Moon, will be Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. It’s one of the brightest stars in the night sky and about 78 light-years distant.
Object of the week: noctilucent clouds
This time of year the twilight seems to last forever at northerly latitudes so consider looking for a “ghostly” display of noctilucent or “night shining” clouds (NLCs). At their best in northern twilight skies during June and July (at latitudes between 50° and 70° north and south of the equator), NLCs are very delicate high altitude clouds of icy dust that form about 50 miles/80 kilometres up. Because the Sun is never too far below the horizon at these latitudes they get subtly lit up for a short time. They’re best seen with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
Astronomers Found a Crater From The Mystery Rocket That Smashed Into The Moon – ScienceAlert
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) – NASA’s eye-in-the-sky in orbit around the Moon – has found the crash site of the mystery rocket booster that slammed into the far side of the Moon back on 4 March 2022.
The LRO images, taken May 25th, revealed not just a single crater, but a double crater formed by the rocket’s impact, posing a new mystery for astronomers to unravel.
Why a double crater? While somewhat unusual – none of the Apollo S-IVBs that hit the Moon created double craters – they’re not impossible to create, especially if an object hits at a low angle. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Astronomer Bill Gray, who first discovered the object and predicted its lunar demise back in January, explains that the booster “came in at about 15 degrees from vertical. So that’s not the explanation for this one.”
The impact site consists of an 18-meter-wide eastern crater superimposed on a 16-meter-wide western crater. Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the LRO Camera team, proposes that this double crater formation might result from an object with distinct, large masses at each end.
“Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may help to indicate its identity,” he said.
So what is it?
It’s a long story. The unidentified rocket first came to astronomers’ attention earlier this year when it was identified as a SpaceX upper stage, which had launched NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) to the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange Point in 2015.
Gray, who designs software that tracks space debris, was alerted to the object when his software pinged an error. He told The Washington Post on January 26 that “my software complained because it couldn’t project the orbit past March 4, and it couldn’t do it because the rocket had hit the Moon.”
Gray spread the word, and the story made the rounds in late January – but a few weeks later, he received an email from Jon Giorgini at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).
Giorgini pointed out that DSCOVR’s trajectory shouldn’t have taken the booster anywhere near the Moon. In an effort to reconcile the conflicting trajectories, Gray began to dig back into his data, where he discovered that he had misidentified the DSCOVR booster way back in 2015.
SpaceX wasn’t the culprit after all. But there was definitely still an object hurtling towards the Moon. So what was it?
A bit of detective work led Gray to determine it was actually the upper stage of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission, a 2014 technology demonstration mission that lay the groundwork for Chang’e 5, which successfully returned a lunar sample to Earth in 2020 (incidentally, China recently announced it would follow up this sample return mission with a more ambitious Mars sample return project later this decade).
Jonathan McDowell offered some corroborating evidence that seemed to bolster this new theory for the object’s identity.
The mystery was solved.
Except, days later, China’s Foreign Minister claimed it was not their booster: it had deorbited and crashed into the ocean shortly after launch.
As it stands now, Gray remains convinced it was the Change 5-T1 booster that hit the Moon, proposing that the Foreign Minister made an honest mistake, confusing Chang’e 5-T1 with the similarly named Chang’e 5 (whose booster did indeed sink into the ocean).
As for the new double crater on the Moon, the fact that the LRO team was able to find the impact site so quickly is an impressive feat in itself. It was discovered mere months after impact, with a little help from Gray and JPL, who each independently narrowed the search area down to a few dozen kilometers.
For comparison, The Apollo 16 S-IVB impact site took more than six years of careful searching to find.
New Zealand Says It's Set to 'Star' in NASA's Return to the Moon – BNN
(Bloomberg) — New Zealand is trumpeting its role in a plan to return humans to the Moon, saying it is set to star in NASA’s Capstone mission that will test the orbit for a lunar space station.
Rocket Lab has announced it will launch a satellite from Mahia, New Zealand, to test the lunar orbit for Gateway, a planned Moon-orbiting outpost that will provide astronauts with access to the lunar surface. Separately, New Zealand’s government said Monday it has signed an agreement with NASA to conduct new research to track spacecraft approaching and orbiting the Moon.
“The New Zealand space sector is set to star in NASA’s Capstone Moon mission,” said Andrew Johnson, manager of the New Zealand Space Agency. Launching into lunar orbit from New Zealand is “a significant milestone,” while the new research “will be increasingly important as more countries and private actors send spacecraft to the Moon,” he said.
NASA’s Artemis Program plans to return humans to the lunar surface as early as 2025, renewing human exploration of the Moon and progressing toward the exploration of Mars. It plans to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.
Rocket Lab said it could launch the CubeSat satellite as soon as Tuesday, with the launch window open through July 27.
New Zealand’s agreement with NASA will see a University of Canterbury-led research team, which includes contributors from the University of Auckland and the University of New South Wales in Australia, attempt to track spacecraft from observatories in Tekapo and Canberra.
The scientists intend to validate their observations and algorithms to predict spacecraft trajectories enroute to the Moon and within their lunar orbits against NASA’s Capstone mission data.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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