Turn to CNN Saturday afternoon for live coverage from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Space reporter Kristin Fisher will join a team of experts to bring us live coverage of the launch.
The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are scheduled to take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday between 2:17 p.m. and 4:17 p.m. ET.
While there is no crew on board, the mission is the first step in the Artemis program to return humans to the moon and eventually land them on Mars
There is a 60 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch, which increases to 80 percent by the end of the window, Meteorological Officer Melody Lovin said at a news conference Friday morning.
If the rocket fails to launch 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, farther than any spacecraft intended to carry people. Crews will follow a similar trajectory on Artemis II in 2024, and astronauts will complete the Artemis III mission to the moon’s south pole in late 2025. The Artemis program aims to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon.
Orion’s journey, which will last about 38 days, will travel to the Moon, orbit the Moon and return to Earth — traveling 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers). The capsule will touch down in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego on October 11.
Here’s everything you can expect before, during and after launch.
Early Saturday, the launch team will conduct a briefing on weather conditions and decide whether to launch Fuel the rocket.
If all looks good, the team will start fueling the rocket’s core stage and then continue fueling its upper stage. 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. Launch director will vote on teams to make sure every site is ‘smooth’ 15 minutes before departure.
At 10 minutes and counting, things start to speed up as the spacecraft and rocket complete the final steps. Much of the action took place at the last minute, when the ground launch sequencer sent commands for the rocket flight computer’s automatic launch sequencer to take over.
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
The solid rocket booster will detach from the spacecraft after about two minutes of flight and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, with other components jettisoned shortly after. After about eight minutes, the core stage of the rocket will separate and crash into the Pacific Ocean, Allows Orion’s solar array wings to unfold.
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 9:45 p.m. ET, 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.
Within days of launch, Orion will venture to the Moon, coming within 60 miles (96 kilometers) of its closest approach on the sixth day of the journey. The service module will place Orion in a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on day 10.
Orion will also surpass the distance record set by Apollo 13 in 1970 of 248,654 miles (400,169 kilometers) on its 10th day around the moon. 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 5, within 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 down to less than 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), and then it splashes into the Pacific Ocean at 2:00 a.m. EST October 11th at 10pm.
Splashdown will be live From NASA’s website, a view of the 17 cameras on the recovery ship and the helicopter awaiting the return of the Orion.
The landing and recovery team will collect the Orion capsule, and data from the spacecraft will determine lessons learned before humans return to the moon.