The unmanned Artemis I mission, including the Space Launch System Rocket and the Orion spacecraft, is set to launch on August 29 between 8:33 a.m. ET and 10:33 a.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Although there is no human crew on board the mission, this is the first step of 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 further than any spacecraft intended to carry humans. Crews will travel on a similar trajectory aboard Artemis II in 2024, and the first woman and the next man to land on the moon will arrive on the Artemis III mission at the moon’s south pole in late 2025.
Performances by such celebrities as Jack Black, Chris Evans, and Keke Palmer and performances of Josh Groban and Herbie Hancock’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” and The Philadelphia Orchestra’s “America the Beautiful” and cellist Yo-Yo Ma are also featured on the program .
Once the launch has taken place, NASA will hold a post-launch briefing, and later in the day, the agency will share the first Earth images from cameras aboard the Orion spacecraft.
Orion’s journey takes 42 days as it travels to the moon, orbits it, and returns to Earth — a total of 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers). The capsule will crash into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on October 10.
Here’s everything you can expect before, during and after the launch.
Countdown to launch
The official launch countdown begins on August 27 at 10:23 a.m. ET.
The call to stations will take place on Saturday mornings at the Kennedy Space Center, as well as for teams providing support from various centers across the country. This is when all teams associated with the mission arrive on their consoles and announce that they are ready, beginning a two-day countdown.
Over the weekend, engineers will power the Orion spacecraft, the intermediate cryogenic propulsion stage (the upper part of the rocket), and the nuclear stage, charge the batteries and conduct final preparation for the engines.
Late Sunday night through early Monday morning, the launch team will hold a briefing to discuss weather conditions and decide whether to “go” or “no go” to fuel the rocket.
If all looks good, the team will begin refueling the rocket’s core phase eight hours before launch. Five hours earlier, the top stage will begin refueling. After that, the team will replenish and replenish the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that disappear during refueling.
About 50 minutes before launch, the final NASA test director briefing takes place. A scheduled 30-minute countdown begins approximately 40 minutes before launch.
The launch director will poll the team to ensure each station is “go” 15 minutes before launch.
After 10 minutes and counting, everything kicks into high gear as the spacecraft and rocket go through the final steps. Much of the action takes place in the last minute, when the ground launch sequencer sends the command for the rocket flight computer’s automated launch sequencer to take over about 30 seconds before launch.
In the final seconds, hydrogen will burn off, starting the four RS-25 engines, resulting in booster ignition and launch at T minus zero.
Journey to the Moon
After launch, the solid rocket boosters will separate from the spacecraft about two minutes into the flight and splash into the Atlantic Ocean, jettisoning other components shortly after as well. The rocket’s core stage will disintegrate about eight minutes later and fall toward the Pacific Ocean, allowing the wings of Orion’s solar panels to deploy.
The perigree-raising maneuver will occur about 12 minutes after launch, when the ICPS experiences a burn to raise Orion’s altitude so it doesn’t re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Shortly after, the trans-lunar injection fire, when the ICPS increases Orion’s speed from 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kilometers per hour) to 22,600 miles per hour (36,371 kilometers per hour) to escape the pull of gravity from the earth and go to the moon.
After this combustion, the ICPS will separate from Orion.
At around 4:30 p.m., Orion will fire up its first outbound orbit correction using the European Service Module, which will provide the spacecraft with power, propulsion and thermal control. This maneuver will put Orion on a path to the moon.
Over the next few days after launch, Orion will venture to the moon, within 60 miles (96 kilometers) of its closest approach to the lunar surface on day six of the journey — or September 3 if the launch takes place as scheduled on August 29. The service module will place Orion in distant retrograde orbit around the moon on September 10 or 7.
Orion will surpass the distance record of 248,654 miles (400,169 kilometers) – set by Apollo 13 in 1970 – on September 8 when it orbits the moon. The spacecraft will reach its maximum distance of 280,000 miles (450,616 kilometers) from Earth on September 23 when it ventures 40,000 miles (64,373 kilometers) beyond the moon.
This is 30,000 miles (48,280 kilometers) further than the Apollo 13 record.
Orion will make its second closest approach to the lunar surface on October 3, within a radius of 804 kilometers.
Just before they re-enter 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 experience temperatures close to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).
The atmosphere will slow Orion to about 300 miles per hour (482 kilometers per hour), and a series of parachutes will slow it to less than 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) before crashing into the Pacific Ocean at 11:53 a.m.
Splashdown will stream live from the NASA website, collecting images from the 17 cameras aboard the salvage ship and helicopters that will await Orion’s return.
The landing and recovery team will collect the Orion capsule, and the data collected by the spacecraft will determine lessons learned before humans return to the moon.