Artemis I: Here's everything you need to know about NASA's moon mission

The stage is set for NASA's blockbuster moon mission
Chris Young
NASA-SLS.jpeg
An artist's impression of SLS.

NASA/MSFC 

The launch of NASA's Artemis I moon mission is just around the corner.

The momentous launch has been years in the making. NASA finally means to send its Orion capsule on its journey to the moon and back this month after a long string of delays exacerbated by concerns that the project had gone wildly over budget.

Orion will sit atop NASA's most powerful rocket ever, the Space Launch System (SLS). Here's everything you need to know.

When will Artemis I launch?

In an interview with IE last month, Pete Paceley, a principal director at Draper, the company responsible for much of Artemis I's guidance software, said August was "looking pretty good" for launch.

Shortly afterward, on Wednesday, July 20, NASA announced a provisional launch date of August 29 for Artemis I, meaning we might be just days away from seeing SLS and Orion take flight. This came after NASA successfully completed its much-delayed wet dress rehearsal in June, during which it filled SLS with fuel and performed a simulated countdown that stopped just short of launch.

Artemis I: Here's everything you need to know about NASA's moon mission
SLS rolling out to the launchpad for its wet dress rehearsal.
Source: NASA 

Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to rocket launches, and preparations must still go smoothly up to launch- all while the weather will also have to cooperate. SLS and Orion will start their slow rollout to the launchpad aboard Crawler-Transporter 2 on August 18.

Why is Artemis I such a huge milestone for NASA?

Artemis I is one of two launches set to take place this summer — or in September — that will usher in a new era of spaceflight. The other is the orbital maiden flight of SpaceX's Starship launch vehicle, which NASA has contracted for its Artemis III moon landing mission.

Artemis I is the first in a series of missions that NASA plans to use to establish and maintain a permanent presence on the moon — which will act as a springboard for sending humans to Mars. Artemis I will be NASA's first big mission to the moon since the last moon landing carried out by Apollo 17 in 1972.

The mission will launch aboard the space agency's most powerful rocket yet. SLS will produce 9.5 million lbs of thrust and carry a payload capacity of 190,000 lbs (86 tons) up to low-Earth orbit (LEO). By comparison, NASA's Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo missions produced 7.5 million lbs of thrust.

A step-by-step guide for Artemis I

What will actually happen after the launch of Artemis I?

The European Space Agency (ESA), one of NASA's key international collaborators for the Artemis missions, has published a useful step-by-step guide outlining the steps SLS and Orion will carry out after launch.

Artemis I: Here's everything you need to know about NASA's moon mission
A step-by-step outline of Artemis I.
Source: ESA–K. Oldenburg 

The mission will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after which the Orion capsule will detach from SLS and deploy into low Earth orbit. After orbiting Earth, Orion will be slung towards the moon, where it will perform several main engine burns before making its way back towards Earth.

If Artemis I does launch on August 29, it is expected to return and make a splashdown over the Pacific Ocean on October 10. The mission will have lasted approximately 42 days.

How to watch

NASA will stream the launch of Artemis I live on NASA TV. At IE, we'll be sure to provide live written coverage alongside NASA. The U.S. space agency live streams all of its biggest events — such as the recent historic reveal of James Webb images — on its YouTube channel.

What comes next after Artemis I?

If and when Artemis I is successfully completed, NASA will then start preparing for Artemis II, which will be the space agency's first crewed mission to the moon since Apollo 17. Artemis II will perform the same maneuver as Artemis I, meaning its crew will travel around the moon and back to Earth.

For Artemis III, NASA will use a SpaceX Starship rocket to land humans on the lunar surface- including the first woman and person of color to reach the moon. The space agency agreed a $2.9 billion contract with Elon Musk's private space firm last year.

Artemis I, therefore, is a crucial first mission for NASA's highly ambitious Artemis project. And, if all goes to plan, it is only a few short days away.

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