Head over to CNN for live coverage from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday afternoon. Space reporter Kristen Fisher will provide us with real-time reports from launch, along with a team of experts.
The Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft are expected to take off between 2:17 PM and 4:17 PM ET on Saturday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Although there is no crew on board, the mission is the first step in the Artemis program, which aims to bring humans back to the moon and eventually land them on Mars.
There is a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch, with the chances increasing to 80% at the end of the window, official meteorologist Melody Lovin said during a press conference on Friday morning.
If the rocket cannot be launched on Saturday, the next possible launch window will be Monday.
Once launched, the Orion spacecraft will enter a distant retrograde orbit of the Moon and travel 40,000 miles beyond it, going beyond any spacecraft designed to carry humans. Crews aboard Artemis II will travel a similar route in 2024, and astronauts are expected to reach the moon’s south pole at the end of 2025 with the Artemis III mission. The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and the first black person on the moon.
Orion’s journey will last approximately 38 days as it travels to the Moon, orbits it and returns to Earth, covering 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km). The capsule will fall into the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on October 11.
Here’s everything you can expect before, during and after launch.
Countdown to launch
Early on Saturday, the launch team will do a weather briefing and decide whether to start Rocket Power.
If everything looks good, the team will start powering the main phase of the rocket and then move on to powering its upper phase. Next, the team will feed and replenish the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that dissipate during the refueling process.
Approximately 50 minutes before launch, the final briefing for the NASA Test Director will be held. The launch manager will scrutinize the team to make sure each station “shuts down” 15 minutes before take-off.
At 10 minutes or more, things are booming as the spaceship and rocket make their final passes. Many actions happen at the last minute when the ground launch sequencer sends the command to the rocket flight computer’s automated launch sequencer to take control.
In the final seconds, the hydrogen will burn and the four RS-25 engines will start, producing enhanced ignition and starting from T minus zero.
Journey to the moon
The solid rocket thrusters will separate from the spacecraft about two minutes into flight and take off in the Atlantic Ocean, with other components discarded shortly thereafter. The main stage of the rocket will separate after about eight minutes and fall towards the Pacific Ocean. Let the wings of Orion’s solar panel spread out.
Shortly thereafter, the lunar transient injection was blown, as the ICPS increased Orion’s speed from 17,500 mph (28,163 km / h) to 22,600 mph (36,371 km / h) to escape Earth’s gravity and take off for the Moon.
After this burn, the ICPS will separate from Orion.
At around 9:45 pm EDT, Orion will perform its first external trajectory correction burn with the European Service Module, which provides the spacecraft with power, propulsion and thermal control. This maneuver will put Orion on the way to the moon.
In the next few days after launch, Orion will venture to the Moon, approaching 60 miles (96 kilometers) during its closest approach on the sixth day of flight. The service module will put Orion in a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on day 10.
Orion will also break the distance record of 248,654 miles (400,169 kilometers) – set by Apollo 13 in 1970 – on the tenth day it orbits the moon. The spacecraft will reach its maximum distance from Earth of 280,000 miles (450,616 km) on September 23 when it ventures 40,000 miles (64,373 km) behind the moon.
This is 30,000 miles (48,280 km) from the Apollo 13 record.
Orion will make its second closest approach to the lunar surface, 500 miles (804 kilometers), on October 5. The service module would suffer a burn that would allow the moon’s gravity to launch Orion’s slingshot on its way to Earth.
Before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the service module will separate from Orion. The spacecraft will hit the top of Earth’s atmosphere and travel at 25,000 miles per hour (40,233 kilometers per hour) and its heat shield will experience temperatures of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).
The atmosphere will slow Orion to around 300 mph (482 km / h) and a series of parachutes will slow it down to less than 20 mph (32 km / h) before descending into the Pacific at 2:10 pm east on October 11.
Splashdown will be broadcast live From the NASA website, with 17-camera views of the rescue ship and helicopters awaiting Orion’s return.
The landing and recovery team will collect the Orion capsule and the data will be identified by the spacecraft lessons learned before humans return to the moon.