How to watch NASA test its awesome SLS rocket tomorrow

NASA is making final preparations for the second hot fire test of the core stage of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The ground-based test will take place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on Thursday, March 18, and will be broadcast live on NASA TV. See below for details on how to watch.

The hot fire is the final test of NASA’s Green Run test series as the agency prepares its Space Launch System for Artemis missions to the moon. The Artemis program will use the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface before the end of this decade, with eventual crewed missions to Mars also part of the plan.

“On test day, engineers will power up all the core stage systems, load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, propellant into the tanks, and fire the rocket’s four RS-25 engines at the same time to simulate the stage’s operation during launch, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust,” NASA said in an article about Thursday’s important test.

Artemis I, II, III

The program’s first space mission, Artemis I, will involve an uncrewed fly-by of the moon to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system, and could take place as early as November 2021. If that goes to plan, Artemis II will perform the same flight, but with a crew on board. Artemis III will aim to put humans back on the moon for the first time since 1972. NASA is targeting 2024 for the highly anticipated lunar landing, though the date looks likely to slip.

SLS has a height of 98.1 meters (322 feet) — that’s 5.2 meters (17 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty. When NASA’s rocket lifts off for its moon missions, it will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust, “equivalent to more than 160,000 Corvette engines,” as the agency describes it. That makes it 13% more powerful than the Space Shuttle and 15% more powerful than the awesome Saturn V, the launch vehicle used by NASA for crewed missions to the moon five decades ago. In other words, SLS looks set to become the most powerful rocket ever to embark on a space mission (though SpaceX’s Starship is coming up the rear).

How to watch

NASA is targeting a two-hour test window that opens at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 18. The entire event will be broadcast as it happens on NASA TV — we’ve embedded a link at the top of this page. The live coverage will start around 30 minutes before the rocket begins to fire. Any updates or schedule changes will be posted on NASA’s Twitter account and also on the Artemis blog, so be sure to check them on the day of the test.

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