The enormous Space Launch System passed its first test with flying colors, NASA’s preliminary analysis concludes, and the rocket and Orion capsule are good to go for their next mission: Artemis II, which will carry a crew to lunar orbit.
After numerous delays and enormous cost overruns, some worried that the SLS (nicknamed the “Mega Moon Rocket”) would never actually take off. But the launch in November went off (mostly) without a hitch, as did the 25-day mission undertaken by an uncrewed Orion capsule.
While its success was apparent, it wasn’t a case of all or nothing. Reams of data needed to be analyzed by NASA’s teams to make sure that Artemis I didn’t succeed in spite of serious problems. Fortunately that does not seem to be the case: although the teams are still working through the terabytes of raw data, the agency has pronounced the mission good enough to endorse its sequel.
“Building off the assessment conducted shortly after launch, the preliminary post-flight data indicates that all SLS systems performed exceptionally and that the designs are ready to support a crewed flight on Artemis II,” wrote NASA in a news post.
Emphasizing the point, SLS Program manager John Honeycutt is quoted as follows:
The correlation between actual flight performance and predicted performance for Artemis I was excellent. There is engineering and an art to successfully building and launching a rocket, and the analysis on the SLS rocket’s inaugural flight puts NASA and its partners in a good position to power missions for Artemis II and beyond.
Key pressures, temperatures, and other values were all within 2 percent of predictions. No doubt the team is working on narrowing that delta even now.
Artemis II’s crewed mission obviously depended entirely on the success of Artemis I, and this is the clearest indication since launch that the SLS and Orion are quantifiably good enough. It’s a big step to say “yes, we’re moving forward with putting astronauts on this thing,” but of course there’s a lot more work to come before it takes place. Artemis I’s timeline didn’t exactly go as planned but having verified that the rocket works as expected may help hurry along the next part of NASA’s big plan to return to the moon.