The uncrewed Artemis 1 mission, including the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft, is scheduled for Aug. 29 from NASA Kennedy, Florida, from 8:33 a.m. ET to 10:33 a.m. ET Space Center launch.
While there will be no human crew on this mission, it is the first step in the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon and eventually land them on Mars.
The Orion spacecraft will enter a distant retrograde orbit of the moon and travel 40,000 miles beyond it, farther than any spacecraft intended to carry people. The crew will embark on a similar trajectory on Artemis II in 2024, and the first woman and the next man to land on the moon will arrive on the Moon’s south pole on the Artemis III mission in late 2025.
Appearances by celebrities such as Jack Black, Chris Evans and Keke Palmer, as well as performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Josh Groban and Herbie Hancock and “America the Beautiful” by the Philadelphia Orchestra and cellist Yo-Yo Ma were also part of the show.
After the launch, NASA will hold a post-launch briefing, and later in the day, the agency will share the first views of Earth from cameras aboard the Orion spacecraft.
Orion’s journey, which will last 42 days, will travel to the moon, orbit it and return to Earth — a total of 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers). The capsule will splash in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on October 10.
Here’s everything you can expect before, during and after launch.
The official launch countdown will begin on August 27th at 10:23AM ET.
A call will be made Saturday morning at the Kennedy Space Center to radio stations and teams providing support from centers across the country. This is the start of a two-day countdown when all mission-related teams arrive at their consoles and report that they are ready.
Over the weekend, engineers will power the Orion spacecraft, the temporary cryogenic propulsion stage (the upper part of the rocket) and the core stage, charge the batteries and make final preparations for the engines.
Late Sunday night into the early hours of Monday, the launch team will hold briefings to discuss weather conditions and decide whether they will “go” or “not go” to start fueling the rocket.
If all looks good, the team will begin refueling the rocket’s core stage eight hours before launch. Five hours ago, the superiors would start refueling. After that, the team will make up and replenish any liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen dissipated during refueling.
About 50 minutes before launch, a final NASA Test Director briefing will be held. The planned 30-minute countdown will begin approximately 40 minutes before launch.
The launch director will poll the team to ensure that each site is “launched” 15 minutes before launch.
At 10 minutes and counting, things start to speed up as the spacecraft and rocket complete the final steps. Much of the action happened at the last minute, as the ground launch sequencer sent commands for the rocket flight computer’s automatic launch sequencer to take over about 30 seconds before launch.
In the last few seconds, the hydrogen will burn out and the four RS-25 engines will start, causing the boosters to fire and lift off at zero T.
Journey to the Moon
After liftoff, the solid rocket booster will separate from the spacecraft after about two minutes of flight and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, with other components tossed away shortly after. After about eight minutes, the rocket’s core stage will separate and drop toward the Pacific Ocean, allowing Orion’s solar array wings to unfold.
The perigee lift maneuver will occur about 12 minutes after launch, when the ICPS undergoes burn-up to raise Orion so it does not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. A translunar jet burn followed shortly after, when the ICPS boosted Orion’s speed from 17,500 mph (28,163 kph) to 22,600 mph (36,371 kph) to escape Earth’s gravity and set off for the moon.
After combustion, ICPS will be separated from Orion.
At around 4:30 p.m., Orion will conduct its first outbound trajectory correction burn using the European service module, which provides power, propulsion and thermal control for the spacecraft. This maneuver will put Orion on its way to the moon.
In the next few days after launch, Orion will venture to the moon, coming within 60 miles (96 kilometers) of the closest approach to the lunar surface on the sixth day of the journey — if the launch goes as planned in August, then on September 3 29. The service module will place Orion in a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on day 10 or 7 September.
Orion will surpass the distance record of 248,654 miles (400,169 kilometers) — set by Apollo 13 in 1970 — while orbiting the moon on September 8. On September 23, the spacecraft will venture 40,000 miles (64,373 kilometers) beyond the moon, reaching a maximum distance of 280,000 miles (450,616 kilometers) from Earth.
That’s 30,000 miles (48,280 kilometers) further than the Apollo 13 record.
Orion will approach the lunar surface for the second time on October 3, at a distance of 500 miles (804 kilometers). The service module will undergo a burn that will allow the moon’s gravity to bounce Orion back on its way back to Earth.
Just before re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the service module will separate from Orion. The spacecraft will hit the top of Earth’s atmosphere at about 25,000 miles per hour (40,233 kilometers per hour), and its heat shield will be nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).
The atmosphere will slow Orion to about 300 miles per hour (482 kilometers per hour), a series of parachutes will slow it to less than 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), and then it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean at 11 a.m. 53:00
Splashdown will be broadcast live on NASA’s website, gathering views from 17 cameras on rescue ships and helicopters awaiting the return of Orion.
The landing and recovery team will collect the Orion capsule, and the data collected by the spacecraft will determine what lessons humans learned before returning to the moon.