Finally! NASA set a launch date for its moon-bound Artemis I mission

NASA's massive SLS rocket could finally launch in August.
Chris Young
Launch Pad 39B, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraftNASA

NASA has set a concrete date for the launch of SLS.

Officials at the U.S. space agency announced on Wednesday, July 20, that they are making good progress toward a launch of the moon-bound Space Launch System (SLS) this summer, a report from Ars Technica reveals.

The agency set a provisional launch date of August 29, meaning we might be just a little more than five weeks away from seeing the Artemis I mission take flight.

NASA's SLS has a concrete launch date

NASA's current plans would see its Orion spacecraft launch towards the moon atop SLS. The agency's massive rocket will roll out to the launch pad on August 18. From that point on, the space agency set three launch dates of August 29, September 2, and September 5.

During the announcement, Jim Free, chief of NASA's human exploration systems development program, said, "these are the dates we are working toward today." However, it's worth noting that he did say preparations would have to continue to go smoothly for NASA to make the first launch window. Weather conditions would also have to work for NASA. 

The agency recently set out a number of launch windows extending into 2023. The first window would see Orion launch atop SLS on August 29 8:33 am and land back on Earth on October 10. The September 2 window would launch at 12:48 pm ET and land on October 11, while the September 5 window would launch at 5:12 pm ET and land on October 17.

To the moon and back

If and when SLS does launch, it will carry out NASA's Artemis I mission, which will kickstart a bold new era of space exploration. Artemis I will fly the Orion spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Artemis II would carry out the same maneuver with astronauts aboard the Orion capsule this time. Artemis III, meanwhile, will be carried out using a SpaceX Starship launch vehicle, and it will take astronauts back to the moon's surface for the first time since 1972. Artemis II and III are both expected to launch around 2025.

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NASA will hold a Flight Readiness Review on August 22, at which point we will have a better idea of whether SLS will, indeed, launch at the end of August.

Before that point, on August 11, the space agency will start activating SLS's flight termination system. The system is programmed to destroy the rocket if it were to veer off course after launch. Crucially, it can only be activated at the Kennedy Space Center Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) — its batteries have to be charged for it to work independently of SLS's power system. Once activated, NASA has three weeks to launch SLS before it would need to re-activate the flight termination system. So, if NASA were to miss the September 5 window, it might not launch SLS until October.

Though the August 29 date is not 100 percent set in stone, it shows that we are very close to seeing NASA's SLS finally take to the skies. The launch vehicle recently passed a much-delayed wet dress rehearsal, and it is currently waiting to be rolled out from the VAB, alongside Orion. Stay posted for more updates on NASA's massive moon-bound launch vehicle.