Back To The Moon: Artemis Mission SLS Rocket: From Launch to Lunar Orbit To Splashdown

As we are all aware, most vehicles on the road are powered by engines that convert fuel into energy to create motion. Although rocket engineering is way more complex, the same basic principle applies to the engines and motors that will help power a journey to the Moon. For future Artemis missions, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft will be equipped with several different types of engines and motors. From rocket liftoff to splashdown, these engines and motors will send the first SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis mission, out beyond the Moon and farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever ventured. Missions at the Moon will be a stepping stone to set ready for human exploration of Mars.

Within Artemis mission, There are total of 55 engines and motors between the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft which will carry Orion spacecraft from the launch pad, around the Moon, and back to Earth. A motor is usually defined as a machine that produces motion, and an engine is considered a type of motor that produces motion with the use of moving parts. In rocket science, these terms are typically used to differentiate between rocket motors with solid fuel, which does not employ moving parts to generate thrust, and engines that use moving parts such as pumps and valves to direct liquid fuel through the system. Solid rocket motors may still include moving parts to steer and direct the thrust.


The first configuration of the SLS rocket, called Block 1, will be prepared for the first three Artemis missions and its 322 ft. tall, that is actually taller than the Statue of Liberty. It weighs 5.75 million pounds and will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust at the time of launch and ascent with the power of four RS-25 engines and two solid rocket motors, commonly called boosters.

Every booster is equipped with an ignition motor that ignites the solid propellant. For almost 2 minutes into flight, the boosters will separate from the rocket and the RS-25 engines on the core stage will continue carrying Orion to orbit. Then, the fairings will be ejected to expose the service module, and the jettison motor will ignite to eject the launch abort system from the spacecraft. The launch abort system will be no longer needed after, as Orion can safely abort using the engines on the European Service Module, provided by ESA (European Space Agency).

About eight minutes after liftup, the RS-25 engines will shut down and the core stage will separate from Orion and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). The RS-25’s smaller engine, the RL10 engine, will take over on the ICPS. The RL10 engine will ignite for less than one minute to position Orion ahead of a longer burn that will accelerate the spacecraft fast enough to break away from the pull of Earth’s gravity and set a course with a precise trajectory to the Moon. After the RL10 engine has completed the burn to send Orion to the Moon, the ICPS will separate from Orion and the service module will use a combined total of 33 engines to propel and position the spacecraft during the mission until it is time for Orion to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The service module’s propulsion system can fire for less than a second for spacecraft maneuvering or, in certain emergency situations, the main engine can fire for more than 10 minutes to perform potential abort scenarios.

Before re-entry, the service module will separate from Orion. When Orion prepares to splash down into the Pacific Ocean, the 12 reaction control system engines on the crew module will make sure the spacecraft is finely oriented, with its heat shield looking downward for entry through Earth’s atmosphere, and stable during descent.