Washington companies play key role in Artemis I rocket launch

SEATTLE — NASA finally took its leap back to the Moon with a dramatic nighttime liftoff for Artemis I. After numerous delays, the rocket was able to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

There are 42 companies with ties to Washington that are helping the Artemis mission.

Shortly after the launch, Boeing tweeted several times about its success with a boost from the space launch system the company developed, saying that we’re going back to the Moon for the first time in 50 years.

Boeing released several statements Wednesday morning about the launch.

“Today, this country now has a super-heavy lift launch capability for the first time in 50 years,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division. “This test flight was a demonstration of engineering innovation, and we are ready to support NASA and their international partners in returning humans to deep space exploration.”

“It was an absolutely beautiful launch — visually and technically,” said John Shannon, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s SLS program. “This rocket controls incredible forces while speeding through the atmosphere. It performed the mission as we designed it to do, and we thank our team and partners for all their hard work in making this first launch a success.”

Boeing said the core rocket the company developed stands at 212 feet — almost 65 meters — and is comprised of a 196,000-gallon liquid oxygen tank, a 537,000-gallon liquid hydrogen tank, along with a section joining the two fuel reservoirs. The engine section has four RS-25 engines combining for 2.2 million pounds of thrust. Those engines were developed by another Washington-based company, Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The company also tweeted Wednesday morning, saying it’s “helping usher in a new era of deep space exploration. We are going.”

KIRO 7 has spoken to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s executives for several months about developing propulsion systems for the rocket and the Orion lunar craft that will orbit the Moon.

The company’s system will propel the capsule back to Earth after a journey of more than 25 days and 1.3 million miles.

Don Mahr is a lead developer at the company and watched the launch in Florida. He said the company will be collecting data on the lunar module for the next several weeks.

“Oh my gosh, the excitement was in the air … we were all out there in the middle of the night and everyone was out there with one purpose: to watch Artemis get off the ground.”

He said developers will be working hard for the next few weeks monitoring the Orion module.

“There were some beautiful photos of the back end of the service module, the large engine that’s our Orion main engine and all the others were produced here in Redmond, Washington.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s teams also developed technology to save the astronauts, according to top space executive Joe Cassady.

“We have a launch abort system on this rocket to protect the crew in the event of a bad day on the pad. It would pull the Orion capsule away and save the astronauts. Because we have that system on top, we have to get rid of it after every launch. We actually make a solid rocket motor that does that,” said Cassady.

The launch of Artemis I is an uncrewed test flight.

“Today’s launch lays the groundwork for landing a woman and a person of color on the Moon for the first time in history,” said Washington Senator Maria Cantwell. “It also shows that Washington state remains an aerospace industry leader, with workers at 42 companies from seven different counties contributing components for the Artemis missions. Today’s success is key to inspiring the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers and to maintaining U.S. leadership in space, which is why we fought to authorize NASA and Artemis in the recently passed CHIPS & Science Act.”

The senator highlighted various aspects of the Artemis program, and said 42 companies with links to Washington are providing components either for Artemis I or for later Artemis missions including: General Dynamics in Bothell, Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Blue Origin in Kent, and Toray Composites Material in Tacoma. The senator’s office provided a full list of Washington companies supporting the Artemis program here.

Cantwell’s office also highlighted the fact that NASA astronauts Kayla Barron and Anne McClain, both Washington natives, are among the 18 people under consideration to go the Moon.