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The Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft are humanity's ticket back to the Moon. The powerful duo proved themselves during the uncrewed Artemis I test flight, and in they will team up to send a crew around the Moon during Artemis II.


NASA's SLS is a rocket designed to help return humans to the Moon, establish a long-term presence there, and set the stage for human exploration of Mars.

The SLS is designed to be evolvable, and future versions will be able to carry Orion and other large payloads to space, according to mission destination and requirements.

No other rocket can send astronauts and the Orion spacecraft directly to the Moon in a single mission. As during the Artemis I mission, the SLS rockets that will power Artemis II and III are in the Block 1 configuration. Larger, more powerful configurations will send crews and large cargo to lunar orbit in later missions. Every SLS configuration uses the core stage and its four RS-25 engines. Two solid rocket boosters also provide more than 75 percent of the vehicle's thrust during the first two minutes of flight.

Launch of the Artemis I mission

On , NASA's SLS rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launched on the Artemis I flight test from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

During each lunar mission, the SLS will launch the crew in Orion to space and help set them on course to venture to the Moon. To do this, the SLS must have enough power to perform a manoeuvre known as a trans-lunar injection. This manoeuvre accelerates the spacecraft from its orbit around Earth onto a trajectory toward the Moon. During Artemis II, Orion's European Service Module will provide this massive push! The ability to send more mass to the Moon on a single mission makes exploration simpler and safer.

To the Moon! – Infographic

Text version - To the Moon! – Infographic

Orion is a new exploration vehicle that will carry Artemis crews to space. It is designed to be launched by NASA's SLS rocket, one of the most powerful rockets in the world. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

The Orion spacecraft

The Orion spacecraft is composed of three main elements:

During the uncrewed Artemis I test flight, the capsule did not contain the life-support systems required for crewed missions. Orion will be outfitted with these systems for Artemis II and future missions.

Guidance and navigation

On board Orion, an advanced guidance, navigation, and control system uses an array of sensors to calculate the spacecraft's position in space. Some of these sensors are:

View of Orion, Earth and the Moon

Both Earth and the Moon are visible in this image that Orion captured as the spacecraft reached its maximum distance from Earth on day 13 of the Artemis I mission. (Credit: NASA)

Engineers demonstrate launch position inside Orion spacecraft

Spacesuit engineers show the launch arrangement for four crewmembers inside a mock-up of the Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

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