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What is Nasa's giant SLS rocket? – BBC News

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.css-1ecljvk-StyledFigureCopyrightposition:absolute;bottom:0;right:0;background:#3F3F42;color:#EEEEEE;padding:0.25rem 0.5rem;text-transform:uppercase;NASA

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.css-14iz86j-BoldTextfont-weight:bold;Nasa has been developing a huge rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts to the Moon – and eventually Mars. Set to make its debut in November 2021, the SLS is the most powerful launch vehicle built since the 1960s.

Nasa has plans to send a man and woman to the lunar surface by 2024, in the first landing with humans since Apollo 17 in 1972.

In the last 20 years, astronauts have been making routine trips to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

But the Moon is nearly 1,000 times further than the ISS; getting astronauts there requires a monster rocket.

The SLS is the modern equivalent of the Saturn V, the huge launcher built during the Apollo era. Like the Saturn, it is split into segments, or stages, stacked on top of each other. But the rocket also incorporates technology from the space shuttle.

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  • What is the SpaceX Crew Dragon?
  • Nasa Moon rocket core leaves for testing
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The first version of the SLS will be called Block 1. It will undergo a series of upgrades in coming years so that it can launch heavier payloads to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

The Block 1 SLS will tower 23 storeys above the launch pad – making it taller than the Statue of Liberty.

“It is truly an immense rocket. It is just jaw-droppingly big,” said John Shannon, vice president and program manager for the SLS at Boeing, the rocket’s prime contractor. He told BBC News in 2019: “When you see the SLS put together, you just haven’t seen anything like it since the Saturn V.”

The rocket will launch astronauts in Nasa’s next-generation crew vehicle – Orion, boosting it to the speeds necessary to break out of low-Earth orbit and travel onwards to the Moon.

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SLS graphic

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How the rocket works

The SLS consists of a giant core stage flanked by two solid rocket boosters (SRBs). The core houses two large storage tanks: one for liquid hydrogen, the fuel, and another for liquid oxygen, an “oxidiser”, which makes the fuel burn.

Together, these are known as propellants.

At the base of the core stage are four RS-25 engines, the same ones that powered the spaceplane-like shuttle orbiter, retired in 2011.

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Workers inside the SLS hydrogen tank use a technique called friction stir welding to plug holes

NASA / Michoud / Steve Seipel

When liquid hydrogen and oxygen are fed into the engine chambers and ignited with a spark, the chemical reaction produces vast amounts of energy and steam.

The steam exits engine nozzles at speeds of 16,000 km/h (10,000 mph) to generate thrust – the force that propels a rocket through the air.

The SRBs give the rocket extra power to escape gravity’s clutches. These twin boosters stand more than 17 storeys tall and burn six tonnes of solid propellant each second. They provide 75% of total thrust during the first two minutes of flight.

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The most powerful rocket ever?

If we use thrust as a measure, the SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever when it flies to space in 2021. The Block 1 SLS will generate 8.8 million pounds (39.1 Meganewtons) of thrust at launch, 15% more than the Saturn V.

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union built a rocket called the N1, in a bid to reach the Moon. Its first stage could produce 10.2 million pounds (45.4 Meganewtons) of thrust. But all four test flights ended in failure.

A future version of the SLS – called Block 2 cargo – should approach the N1’s thrust levels. But a vehicle called Starship, being developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, should exceed both – producing as much as 15 million pounds (66.7 Meganewtons) of thrust. Starship is currently under development, although there is no firm date for its first flight.

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The SLS in numbers

Artwork of SLS launch

NASA

  • The rocket will stand 98m (322ft) tall in its initial, or Block 1, configuration
  • The Block 1 SLS can send more than 27 tonnes (59,500 pounds) to lunar orbits – the equivalent of 11 large sports utility vehicles (SUVs)
  • A future version of the SLS, called Block 2 Cargo, will launch 46 tonnes (101,400 pounds) to the Moon. That’s 18 large SUVs.
  • The SLS will produce 8.8 million pounds (39.1 Meganewtons) of thrust in its Block 1 configuration
  • Four RS-25 engines sit at the base of the core stage; they’re the same ones used in the space shuttle

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How shuttle technology was re-used

The SLS core stage is based on the space shuttle’s foam-covered external tank. This tank fed propellant to three RS-25 engines at the rear of the shuttle orbiter. The solid rocket boosters play much the same role in both vehicles.

But the SLS is a very different beast. A number of components and structures derived from the shuttle underwent significant design changes because of the different levels of stress placed on them by the SLS.

As an example of these different stresses, in the space shuttle, the RS-25 engines were canted up and away from the solid rocket boosters. Moving them next to the SRBs exposes them to more shaking. As a result, every system in the complex SLS engine section had to be rigorously tested to ensure it could withstand the vibrations.

Why the SLS was built

In February 2010, the Obama administration cancelled Constellation – George W Bush’s plan to return to the Moon by 2020. The news came as a devastating blow to workers in five southern states – Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – where Nasa’s human spaceflight programme funded tens of thousands of jobs.

Some Capitol Hill legislators were furious. Richard Shelby, a republican senator from Alabama, said Congress would not “sit back and watch the reckless abandonment of sound principles, a proven track record, a steady path to success, and the destruction of our human spaceflight programme”.

As a compromise, lawmakers from affected states insisted on a single super heavy-lift rocket to replace the Constellation launchers cancelled by President Obama.

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SLS

NASA

The SLS design, which was based on Nasa technical studies, was unveiled in 2011. After work started, delays and cost overruns gave ammunition to critics, who thought Nasa should rely on rockets operated by commercial providers.

But without significant modifications, no existing boosters have sufficient power to send Orion, astronauts and large cargo to the Moon in one flight. Only the SLS currently has this capability.

A recent oversight report says Nasa will have spent more than $17bn on the SLS by the end of the 2020 fiscal year.

But with the rocket’s development phase now over, success in a series of eight “Green Run” tests being carried out on the core stage should clear the way for launch in 2021.

John Shannon, who has been in charge of the SLS at Boeing since 2015, explained: “I suspect that once SLS is in the national capability there won’t be a need for another heavy-lift vehicle like it for many years. So this is really a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Follow Paul on Twitter.

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Chinese national flag debuts on moon: CNSA – Global Times

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Photo:CNSA

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Friday showed photos of the first Chinese national flag on the moon. The photo was taken with the flag on board the Chang’e-5 lander vehicle before the ascender blasted off from the moon, marking another proud, inspiring moment in the memories of the Chinese people. 

As soon as the photo was released, it brought cheers from Chinese netizens on twitter-like Sina Weibo. As thousands of netizens left emojis of hearts, clapping hands, and celebrating ribbons on the social platform, some said “if there’s a color for a miracle, it must be the color red on our Chinese national flag.”

The flag, more stylish than before, was made from some special material and weighs only 12 grams. It is the third time that the five-starred red flag on the moon following the mission’s two predecessors, chang’e-3 and -4. Only this time, it comes in the form of actual fabrics other than previous coating on.

The Chinese national flag made its moon debut in December 2013 during the country’s first lunar landing mission of Chang’e-3, and it was recorded in pictures from the spacecraft’s lander and its rover Yutu-1 took for each other.

Chang’e-4 lander and rover Yutu-2 brought China’s national flag to the dark side of the moon, as the Chinese spacecraft made a historic landing in the unvisited region in January 2019.

The flags that Chang’e-3 and -4 carried were in the form of the craft’s coatings, rather than an actual flag. Chinese space technological development has allowed it to take a step forward in the Chang’e-5 mission, the third consecutive safe soft landing on the moon in seven years. 

The Chang’e-5 flag presentation system was developed by China Space Sanjiang Group under the State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, better known as the CASIC.

To ensure a complete and smooth unfolding of the flag, the system adopted a secondary rod-type structure, which is applied in solar panel extending for satellites and other types of spacecraft, CASIC developers told the Global Times on Thursday.

The system weight has been controlled at around one kilogram, and all connecting parts of the system have been given special protection, such as coldness-resistance measures, to help overcome unfavorable lunar surface conditions, including a drastic temperature difference on the moon ranging from 150 C to minus 150 C, Li Yunfeng, the project leader, said in a statement the CASIC company sent to the Global Times.

“An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment,” so the research team also spent more than a year selecting the proper materials to make sure the eventual flag would be strong enough, survive under extreme coldness and heat and capable of showing the fine colors of the national flag and remain so forever, said Cheng Chang, another leading member of the developer team.

The 12-gram national flag represents cutting-edge technology, they said.

How to preserve its original color and shape are the two most crucial questions in designing a national flag that must survive more than 380,000 kilometers away from Earth, under extreme temperatures and radiation during its journey, Wang Ya’nan told the Global Times. 

To get a sense of how difficult the task it is, five of the six flags (except for the one Apollo 11 placed on the moon) brought to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s during six US crewed moon landings, have been bleached white due to decades-long solar radiation, although they are reportedly still standing and casting shadows.

Many reports say the Apollo 11 flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during lift-off.

The Soviet Union was the first country to imprint its national symbol on the moon, with a football-sized metal ball, carved with its national flag, full of explosives, smashing to the lunar ground in the Luna 2 mission in 1959.

Compared to such a method, China has a more advanced approach, which also greatly increased the complexity of the design, Wang noted.

The Chinese flag that Chang’e-5 displayed officially became the first and only fabric national flag that has ever been placed on the moon in the 21st century, which reminds many of the classic footage of an American national flag planted by Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 lunar mission more than five decades ago, observers said.

And they hailed that as the fresh and new icon of human’s lunar exploration, the Chinese national flag would inspire today’s mankind, just as Apollo 11 did, encourage and celebrate generations to make an endeavor to space. 

Displaying a national flag on a celestial body represents the comprehensive strength and technological advancement of the country, Song Zhongping, an aerospace expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times. 

“Yesterday’s memory is still fresh and clear, when the US astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969,” Song recalled. “But China is about to showcase our own national flag as well, which I believe is a recognition of the achievements and breakthroughs that we have made, which will be the most valuable thing.”

Some readers have left comments under images and video of the Chang’e-5 landing published on the Global Times twitter account in recent days, saying they would not be convinced and acknowledge China’s achievements until the lander takes an actual photo of the American flag planted by the previous Apollo mission. 

“Is it an original video, or a TikTok post taken in the Gobi desert,” one Twitter user wrote. “Where is the lunar dust while landing,” another asked.

The landing was closely followed by space agencies from all over the world, and the European Space Agency, Russia’s Roscosmos and NASA scientists have extended their congratulations.

Pang Zhihao, a senior space expert based in Beijing, said “the lander vehicle of Chang’e-5 was designed to turn off its engine about two meters above the surface to deliberately avoid blowing dirt.”

And for the sake of innovation, the lander touched down on an unvisited region, which explains why there were no US craft nearby, Pang said.

Global Times

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Footage shows catastrophic collapse of iconic Puerto Rico telescope – cjoy.com

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Dramatic video from Puerto Rico captures the moment when a 816-tonne platform came crashing down on the Arecibo Observatory, shattering one of the world’s largest telescopes and striking a crushing blow to the global scientific community.

The catastrophic collapse happened on Dec. 1, less than two weeks after the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) warned that such a disaster was imminent. The NSF had already shuttered operations at the facility after a suspension cable snapped and slashed a hole in the dish last month.

Read more:
Massive Puerto Rico radio telescope collapses after cables snap

The telescope was the largest of its kind when it opened in 1963, and it has contributed to all manner of astronomical discoveries over the years, from asteroids to planets to mysterious radio signals in space. It also won a place in pop culture as the set for such films as Contact and GoldenEye, the first James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan.

The observatory’s telescope consisted of a 816-tonne reflector dish platform suspended 137 metres above a massive, bowl-like dish, which measured 305 metres across.

Suspension cables holding up the platform snapped on Dec. 1, dropping the heavy platform on the dish with a tremendous crash.

Video captured by the Arecibo control tower shows one of the three major cables snapping, causing the platform to swing down on the remaining cables before snapping them, too.

The footage shows the reflector dish platform falling apart in mid-air, while dragging down several support towers behind it.

Drone footage captured from one of the support towers shows the moment when the first cable snapped. The cable snapped at the tower, then the whole structure came crashing down, pulling other towers with it and cracking the bowl of the telescope. Large clouds of dust rose from the bowl after the catastrophe.

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Jonathan Friedman, who worked for 26 years at the facility and still lives nearby, described the awful sound of the collapse in an interview with the Associated Press.

“It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was,” he said. “I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control. … I don’t have words to express it. It’s a very deep, terrible feeling.”

Many scientists, Puerto Rico residents and other public figures mourned the telescope’s loss after it was closed, and again after it collapsed.

Ángel Vázquez, the telescope’s director of operations, said it was no surprise when the telescope fell apart early Tuesday.

“It was a snowball effect,” he said. “There was no way to stop it. … It was too much for the old girl to take.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Footage shows catastrophic collapse of iconic Puerto Rico telescope – Global News

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Dramatic video from Puerto Rico captures the moment when a 816-tonne platform came crashing down on the Arecibo Observatory, shattering one of the world’s largest telescopes and striking a crushing blow to the global scientific community.

The catastrophic collapse happened on Dec. 1, less than two weeks after the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) warned that such a disaster was imminent. The NSF had already shuttered operations at the facility after a suspension cable snapped and slashed a hole in the dish last month.

Read more:
Massive Puerto Rico radio telescope collapses after cables snap

The telescope was the largest of its kind when it opened in 1963, and it has contributed to all manner of astronomical discoveries over the years, from asteroids to planets to mysterious radio signals in space. It also won a place in pop culture as the set for such films as Contact and GoldenEye, the first James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan.

Story continues below advertisement

The observatory’s telescope consisted of a 816-tonne reflector dish platform suspended 137 metres above a massive, bowl-like dish, which measured 305 metres across.

Suspension cables holding up the platform snapped on Dec. 1, dropping the heavy platform on the dish with a tremendous crash.






0:43
Aerial footage shows damage caused by Arecibo radio telescope collapse


Aerial footage shows damage caused by Arecibo radio telescope collapse

Video captured by the Arecibo control tower shows one of the three major cables snapping, causing the platform to swing down on the remaining cables before snapping them, too.

The footage shows the reflector dish platform falling apart in mid-air, while dragging down several support towers behind it.

Drone footage captured from one of the support towers shows the moment when the first cable snapped. The cable snapped at the tower, then the whole structure came crashing down, pulling other towers with it and cracking the bowl of the telescope. Large clouds of dust rose from the bowl after the catastrophe.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Jonathan Friedman, who worked for 26 years at the facility and still lives nearby, described the awful sound of the collapse in an interview with the Associated Press.

“It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was,” he said. “I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control. … I don’t have words to express it. It’s a very deep, terrible feeling.”

Many scientists, Puerto Rico residents and other public figures mourned the telescope’s loss after it was closed, and again after it collapsed.

Ángel Vázquez, the telescope’s director of operations, said it was no surprise when the telescope fell apart early Tuesday.

“It was a snowball effect,” he said. “There was no way to stop it. … It was too much for the old girl to take.”

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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