We’re in for a treat today, as NASA plans to roll out its much-anticipated Space Launch System rocket in anticipation of the wet dress rehearsal and Artemis 1 trip to the Moon and back. You can catch the action live right here.
We’ve seen plenty of photos of the Space Launch System inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), but this will be our first opportunity to see the fully stacked, 322-foot-tall rocket out in the open. It’s guaranteed to be an impressive sight, as it’ll be the tallest craft to reach a NASA launch pad since the Saturn rockets of the Apollo era.
Coverage of the first SLS rollout begins at 5:00 p.m. EDT (2:00 p.m. PDT) on Thursday, March 17. A live stream will be available at NASA TV, which you can watch below.
NASA’s Crawler-Transporter 2 (CT-2) will deliver the 5.75-million-pound SLS to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Traveling at less than a mile per hour, the 4-mile journey could take anywhere from six to 12 hours to complete. CT-2, which itself weighs 6.6 million pounds, has a loading capacity of 18 million pounds, which is more than 20 fully loaded 777 jumbo jets.
NASA did a cool thing by painting its iconic worm logo onto the sides of the two solid rocket boosters. The SLS side rockets are the “largest, most powerful solid propellant booster ever built for flight,” according to NASA. Standing 17 stories tall, the two boosters provide more than three-quarters of the total SLS thrust at launch. The core stage itself is powered by a quartet of RS-25 engines, which were previously used on the Space Shuttle (each Shuttle used three). A single RS-25 engine provides 512,000 pounds of thrust.
SLS is designed to take NASA astronauts to the Moon and possibly even Mars. The space agency is bullish about the system, but NASA’s inspector general recently said the first four Artemis lunar missions will each cost $4.1 billion per launch, a price tag he described as “unsustainable.”
Today’s rollout is in preparation for the wet dress rehearsal, currently scheduled for April 3. For this trial run, the rocket will be loaded with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants and then de-fueled. The rehearsal will also offer an opportunity for NASA teams to practice the countdown.
It’ll be an all-hands-on-deck experience, setting the stage for the exciting Artemis 1 mission. For that 25-day mission, tentatively scheduled for April (but more likely later this summer), SLS will attempt to send an uncrewed Orion capsule to a retrograde orbit around the Moon—a mission that would in turn set the stage for Artemis 2, tentatively set for May 2024, when a human crew will make the same journey. Some time after that will come the big one, Artemis 3, in which a man and a woman will land on the lunar surface.