Final prelaunch test for NASA’s Mega Moon Rocket will be March 17—How to watch

SLS test
An illustration of NASA’s SLS rocket undergoing night testing. (NASA/MSFC)

We’re about to be one step closer to going back to the Moon + beyond.

On Thursday, March 17, NASA will conduct a rollout of the Huntsville-developed Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft ahead of a “wet dress rehearsal,” the final test before the rocket can be launched. Read on to find out what that means + how you can watch.

Terms you need to know

Photo from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SLS is prepared for testing. (NASA)

With a new NASA program comes a long list of new terminology. Here’s a quick rundown of all the relevant programs, missions and vehicles:

  • Artemis is the name of the NASA program that is aimed at returning to the Moon, while also developing and testing technology that can be used to take humanity to Mars in the future.
  • Artemis I, the first mission in the program, will test the Orion spacecraft. During Artemis I, Orion will be launched 280,000 miles from earth, past the Moon + further than any spacecraft built for humans has ever traveled. The mission is unmanned and will take about three weeks.
  • The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle includes the crew module, service module and launch abort system. This is the part of the rocket that carries people and it is situated at the top of SLS.
  • SLS is the rocket that will be used. It was developed by the Boeing Corporation and includes four RS-25 engines, two solid rocket boosters, one core stage that stores 730,000 gallons of fuel, adapters and the Orion Crew Vehicle. The SLS Program is managed right here in Huntsville at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

“Mega Moon Rocket” refers to the entire integrated system, including both SLS and Orion.

Astronauts will orbit the moon in the Artemis II mission.

The test

Artemis I test
If all goes as planned, we could see Artemis I fly in just a few months. (NASA)

The wet dress rehearsal is last in a series of prelaunch tests the rocket has undergone. During the test, the rocket, on the launch pad, will be loaded with fuel. Then, the team will practice the launch countdown. Instead of launching the rocket, the team will reset the countdown to T-10 minutes, demonstrating their ability to scrub a launch and then de-tank fuel.

Other prelaunch tests already conducted include:

  • Countdown sequencing: Simulates launch countdown to check ground launch software and the ground launch sequencer
  • End-to-end communications: Tests the rocket’s ability to communicate with the ground
  • Interface verification: Various parts of the rocket are powered up to check functionality and other technical capabilities
  • Program specific engineering: Engineers check various systems to ensure operability

The test will take place at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The rollout + where you can watch

SLS will be rolled out on this crawler. (NASA)

Before the rocket can undergo the wet dress rehearsal, it must be rolled out from Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building, where it is right now, to the launch pad. That’s what will happen Thursday, starting at 5PM EDT (4PM here). The journey from the VAB to the launch pad is expected to take anywhere from six to 12 hours.

Live coverage of the rollout will include remarks from guests like NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. You’ll be able to find the coverage here:

Artemis I and beyond

This test will help determine the launch date for Artemis I. As of now, NASA is anticipating a launch date no earlier than April or May of this year. Artemis II is tentatively planned for 2024, and Artemis III, the mission that will put the first woman and person of color on the Moon, will come after that.

We’ll be here with updates along the way.

We are so proud of the Huntsville teams who have worked to make this happen. Are you? Share your congratulations on social media, and make sure to tag @hvilleblast and #hvilleblast.

Emily Phillips
Emily Phillips
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