The engine built by Decatur is essential to the Artemis lunar mission

Aug. 28 – A United Launch Alliance rocket stage built in Decatur will guide the unmanned Artemis 1, scheduled to launch Monday, into lunar orbit on a test flight of a mission to return American astronauts on the moon.

“It’s going to be exciting, the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of different people,” Anthony DiGiallonardo, ULA’s Artemis 1 system engineer lead, said of Monday’s scheduled launch.

DiGiallonardo was speaking last week from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where the Artemis 1 is scheduled to launch Monday during a two-hour window that begins at 7:33 a.m. CDT. Backup dates are Friday and September 5.

ULA built the upper stage of Artemis 1, called the Cryogenic Propulsion Midstage (ICPS). The ICPS is not responsible for the heavy lift that will launch the Orion spacecraft from the ground, but will begin its thrust 51 minutes after launch, once the thrusters and core stage of the Space Launch System have dropped.

The ICPS “takes over after the boost stage. So once the main stage with the main engine completes its segment of the mission, we’ll separate the main stage from the second stage and that’s at that point the second stage will take control of the mission beyond,” DiGiallonardo said.

The Space Launch System (SLS) is the most powerful rocket engine ever built, with two solid rocket boosters that will burn 6 tons of fuel per second. Each thruster, according to NASA, “generates more thrust than 14 commercial four-engine jumbo jets.”

The 322-foot-tall rocket features a 212-foot-tall center stage.

Less than nine minutes after launch, the rocket will travel at approximately 17,000 mph.

Artemis 1 is the first of three planned Artemis missions. This will include three mannequins in the crew capsule. Artemis 2, slated for launch in 2024, will carry four astronauts on a lunar flyby that will take humans further into space – 68,000 miles from Earth – than ever before.

The goal of Artemis 3, slated for launch in late 2025, is to land astronauts on the Moon for the first time since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

ULA, as a Boeing contractor, has already built the interim cryogenic propulsion stages for the first two missions and shipped them to Cape Canaveral from Decatur aboard the R/S RocketShip. The third, intended for manned flight, is being finalized in the Decatur factory.

The ICPS, a modification of the second stage of ULA’s Delta IV rocket, is 45 feet tall and 16.7 feet in diameter. It consists of a liquid hydrogen tank and a liquid oxygen tank, both of which power its Aerojet-Rocketdyne RL10 engine. The ICPS produces 24,750 pounds of thrust and will carry the Orion out of Earth orbit at a speed of 24,500 mph – about 14 times faster than a typical bullet.

“The SLS rocket is powerful enough to put the ICPS stage into Earth orbit before our second burn begins,” DiGiallonardo said. “So once we separate, we’re actually riding for about 30 minutes before our first RL10 burn, before the first second stage ignition. It’s just a testament to how powerful the middle stage is, in that sense that he has the ability to deliver that sort of performance for this mission.”

One of the main goals of the Artemis 1 mission is to test the Orion crew capsule, “the only spacecraft capable of crewed deep space flight and high-speed return to Earth from the vicinity of the moon,” according to NASA, which developed it. with contractor Lockheed-Martin.

“It will provide shielding from solar radiation and high-speed entry into Earth’s atmosphere, as well as advanced and reliable technologies for communication and life support,” according to NASA, which expects be a precursor to a crew capsule for a Mars mission.

One of the Artemis Flight 1 mannequins will wear the Orion Crew Survival System suit, and each of the other two mannequin torsos has 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation exposure in different human organs during the mission. .

DiGiallonardo said one of the highlights of his work on Artemis 1 has been coordinating with the many companies and agencies involved in the mission.

“From my perspective, it has been a real pleasure to work on the mission and integrate with customers from Boeing, Aerojet-Rocketdyne, Marshall (Space Flight Center) and NASA. It has been a very eye-opening experience and Working with some of the best in the world has been exciting,” he said.

Decatur native Virginia Barnes, who was president and CEO of United Space Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that managed US space shuttle operations, highlighted the importance of the Artemis missions in a recent op-ed for Space News.

“The nation hasn’t seen a rocket and capability like the SLS and the Orion capsule since the space race half a century ago,” she wrote. “At a time when the world needs a beacon of hope and something bigger than ourselves, I hope a successful launch of SLS will remind us all to look up at the stars and think about activities greater than ourselves.”

[email protected] or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.

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