The crews work non-stop at NASA's Michoud Assembly Center in New Orleans East with the intention of meeting a new deadline for the fall of 2020 to test the launch of a mega-missile designed for astronaut drive to the Moon and beyond.
"I came here in the middle of the night … talking to people working on the engine department, working hard overnight," NASA's deputy administrator James Morhard said on Friday (June 28th).
He said that the core of the missile assembly, or the Space Launch System, is 80 percent complete, with one of the five parts still in the assembly. If all is fine, it is expected that the Artemis 1 test, which is often postponed to be held in the fall of 2020, although the launch date has not been announced.
Plans require the missile to carry the unbound Orion capsule above the engine before it goes off for 8 minutes and 14 seconds. The capsule then needs to make a double loop around the moon for 25 days in the flight, NASA said.
Officials say that any commercial rocket, current or planned, is not as powerful as the space launch system, which will carry the burden three times as hard as the space shuttle could do. They also called it a new approach to reaching the Moon, unlike Apollo's mission a few decades ago.
"The exciting part is that it will not do it like Apollo … where we put the flag on the moon and left," said Lionel Dutreix, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of Michoud. "We will continue to return to the moon and use it as a technical base and knowledge to go to Mars. We need to make sure that this missile meets these needs."
The missile can not be reused because, according to current plans, engine recovery and recovery would cost more than rebuild, Dutreix said.
In December, the gigantic rocket will be transported to NASA Pegasus barges at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for testing. When it exceeded Orion's fuel and fuel tank, it would stand 322ft tall, taller than the Statue of Liberty, but shorter than the Saturn V missile launching the Skylab Space Station and the Apollo program that took people off the moon.
Four rocket-type RS-25 engines will be maintained on the missile currently underway in Michoupo, which will launch spacecraft. The engines were visible on Fridays in Michoudu, with bright red covers with the inscription "THIS SIDE AFT" covering their wide backs. Officials say NASA has a dozen more for Artemis' further missions, with six more under contract.
Asked whether $ 20 to $ 30 billion was the correct figure for spending over the program, Morhard said, "I will not stand here and give the exact budget."
The deputy administrator would also not say if he expected NASA to replenish the $ 1.6 billion budget required by President Donald Trump to explore the universe.
"The house added $ 1.3 billion to science programs. The Senate did not mark the bill. I'm waiting to see what the Senate is doing.
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