NASA has conducted a preliminary review of the inaugural Space Launch System launch, saying the rocket met and even exceeded all expectations.
On Wednesday, NASA released its initial analysis of SLS’ performance as it lifted off on November 16, sending an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the Moon for the space agency’s Artemis 1 mission. “The first launch of the Space Launch System rocket was simply eye-watering,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, said in a statement. “While our mission with Orion is still underway and we continue to learn over the course of our flight, the rocket’s systems performed as designed and as expected in every case.”
NASA’s 5.75-million-pound rocket took off from Launch Pad 39B at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:47 a.m. ET on November 16. The space agency released a stunning supercut of the launch (see the video below), which includes dramatic POVs from the rocket as it soared into the dark Florida skies.
As it fired up its engines, the rocket’s booster motors produced more than 7 million pounds (3.1 million kilograms) of thrust at liftoff. The rocket and its accompanying spacecraft traveled at a speed of more than 4,000 miles per hour (6,400 kilometers per hour) in just two minutes before the booster separated from the rocket. The rocket’s core stage and four RS-25 engines burned through the stage’s 735,000 gallons of propellants in just over eight minutes, NASA reported.
SLS delivered the Orion capsule within about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) of its planned orbital altitude and at speeds reaching 17,500 miles per hour (28,160 kilometers per hour), according to NASA. That’s when the rocket’s upper stage performed two burns to first raise Orion’s orbit and then propel it toward the Moon. Afterwards, the upper stage’s single RL-10 engine fired for more than 18 minutes—setting a single duration burn record—to send Orion on its journey to the Moon. “Performance was off by less than 0.3 percent in all cases across the board,” Sarafin said in the statement.
Engineers will continue to study SLS’ performance during the Artemis 1 launch over the next several months as NASA prepares to build the next rocket for the launch of Artemis 2 (currently scheduled for 2024). “With this amazing Moon rocket, we’ve laid the foundation for Artemis and for our long-term presence at the Moon,” John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in the statement. The performance of the rocket and the team supporting its maiden voyage was simply outstanding.”
SLS’ journey to liftoff was bumpy, with the rocket enduring several delays and two scrubbed launch attempts. The first scrub was due to a faulty sensor, while the second scrub was the result of an unmanageable hydrogen leak.