After years of delays, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission to test the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft is due soon. Here’s how to see it and why it’s important.
When is the Artemis 1 test?
NASA plans to fly the Space Launch System rocket sometime in a two-hour window in Monday, August 29, 2022. The flight window opens at 8:33 am Eastern Time (click here for more time zones). Although the actual launch won’t happen until Monday, NASA will start the countdown on Saturday, August 27 at 10:23 a.m.
The test flight will begin from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Space launches depend on thousands of factors, including weather conditions, so it’s possible that NASA could cancel the test flight at the last minute.
How to watch the Artemis 1 test
Live coverage of the test and launch of Artemis 1 will be available on the NASA TV channel, the NASA app, the agency’s website, and the NASA YouTube channel. It’s completely free to watch, with no subscription required.
NASA TV is also featured on some cable and satellite TV services: it’s channel 352 on DirecTV and channel 286 on Dish. That might be the best way to watch if your internet connection is unreliable or you don’t have a streaming device set up on your main TV.
What are NASA tests?
Artemis 1 is the first test flight of the ‘Space Launch System’, the latest super-heavy launch vehicle designed by the United States. It will also be the first full flight for the Orion spacecraft, which sits on top of the rocket. Artemis 1 is unmanned, there are no people on board. If all goes according to plan, the Artemis 2 follow-up mission will have a full crew.
The last manned flight to the Moon (also the last time humans went beyond low Earth orbit) was Apollo 17 in December 1972. NASA has been planning new manned lunar missions for the past two decades, beginning with the Constellation program in 2005 under then-President George W. Bush. Constellation aimed to develop new rockets that could take people to the International Space Station, the Moon, and eventually Mars. The plan included two rockets, the Ares I and Ares V, but after President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, the rockets were canceled and modified to a different design.
The Space Launch System is similar to the Saturn V rocket that sent humans to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s. It is the official successor to the Space Shuttle, which retired in 2011, and the SLS is based on the Space Shuttle design. . Unfortunately, that’s also why the SLS isn’t reusable at all and comes with a hefty price tag: Reports from 2019 indicated it would cost $2 billion per launch, at least initially.
Artemis 1 will also test the Orion spacecraft, which sits on top of the rocket and will carry 2-6 people; however, this initial flight is unmanned. Orion serves the same purpose as the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM), and the Crew Module lands in the ocean when it returns to Earth, just like Apollo. However, it has many modern features, such as the ability to dock with the International Space Station (or potentially other targets) without human assistance.
Orion has already been tested several times without the Space Launch System, each time without a manned crew. Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014 launched Orion from a Delta IV rocket and tested Orion’s separation, heat shields, parachutes, and other components. Artemis 1 is the first time Orion will be attached to its intended rocket.
The test is an important milestone in sending humans back to the Moon. Unlike the fast travel of the Apollo days, NASA wants to establish a “long-term sustainable presence on the Moon,” with a base on the surface and a “Gateway” space station in orbit. Those missions could also lead to the first manned mission to Mars.