In the meantime, even experts have lost track of how often the launch of the most powerful Nasa rocket has been postponed since the Space Shuttle flights. The SLS rocket (Space Launch System) was originally supposed to take off at the end of 2016, but the launch site has remained cold at least a dozen times since then. When around 25,000 spectators came to the spaceport in Cape Canaveral in Florida on Monday to finally witness the launch of the 98 meter high rocket, everything should work out. However, anticipation turned to disappointment.
The launch of the "Artemis 1" mission had to be called off 40 minutes before the ignition was canceled due to problems with one of the four core engines. "It's a very complicated machine," said 79-year-old NASA CEO Bill Nelson. As an ex-Space Shuttle astronaut, he himself has experienced four times that his flight has been postponed. So it's better to be on the safe side. Next Friday, September 2nd, NASA is expected to try again to launch the unmanned mission.
It is the first test flight of the SLS rocket towards the moon, a first landing is planned for 2025 or 2026 - a good 50 years after the last visit by US astronauts to the moon. Later, NASA wants to dare flights to Mars using SLS technology. The first mission of the new Orion space capsule is now scheduled to last 43 days. To be on the safe side, only dolls will be inside during the first flight. Only when she returns safely to earth would it be the successful start of a new era in space travel. This includes the colonization of the moon and its permanent orbit by an only occasionally manned space station, the so-called gateway.
The US space agency Nasa is investing incredible sums for this. The United States wants to develop its own state heavy-duty rocket, even if private-sector offers, for example from billionaire Elon Musk with his space company SpaceX, or perhaps from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin project, would be cheaper.
The return to the moon will have to wait a little longer. The launch of the Artemis mission has been canceled by NASA. The reason is technical problems with one of the rocket engines.
The launches of the first four SLS rockets in the Artemis project each cost an incredible 4.1 billion dollars, it was announced at the end of 2021. Although Nasa is apparently getting a new rocket for the extreme price, older technology is used in parts. The four core engines were already used in the space shuttle, and Nasa procured the supply module for the capsule from the European Airbus in Bremen.
The problem from Nasa's point of view is the contract design: the long-established manufacturers of the rocket, mainly Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the capsule, have no real incentive to push the project forward cheaply and efficiently. You will be reimbursed for the development and construction costs plus profit mark-up. These so-called cost-plus contracts lead to exorbitant prices. According to a report, the Artemis program will cost NASA around 93 billion dollars between 2012 and 2025. In the meantime, NASA is examining whether it shouldn't be better to agree on fixed prices in the future.
In addition, the Artemis project with the SLS rocket builds on the old disposable concept: the rocket is – apart from the capsule – not reusable. The rocket stages fall into the sea after launch. Every new building costs. Musk's recycling rockets show how it can be done better. His company SpaceX is about to embark on the maiden flight of the Starship monster rocket, complete with its “Super Heavy” booster. The combination is not only larger and more powerful than the SLS rocket, but also reusable and therefore cheaper by dimensions.
But the Space X model has never flown into space and has not yet been approved to later transport astronauts. So the test is still to come. Musk's Starship is at least as complex as the SLS rocket. An example: The SLS rocket has four powerful engines plus two boosters in the first stage. In Musk's super rocket, 33 engines connected in parallel provide the thrust.
Industry service www.space.com is already questioning whether NASA's SLS rocket will become obsolete if Musk's Starship rocket is more powerful, costs less and takes off more frequently. But behind the state SLS rocket and the Artemis project costing billions is a space industry with thousands of jobs. There is one important argument, the industry experts write: if NASA's goal is to advance human space exploration, it shouldn't rely entirely on a private company or individual. What is meant is probably the ingenious eccentric Elon Musk.
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