Launch Schedule 101

Launch Schedule 101
NASA launches involve many elements: the payloads that give missions their names, the rockets that will carry them into space, launch dates and times, and where the launch will take place. Launch Schedule 101 explains how all of this information is arranged and answers common questions about the NASA launch schedule.

How do I read the NASA launch schedule?
The date and time of the most recent update is provided in bold, red text at the top of the page in addition to the specific change to the mission entry.

How do I view a NASA launch?
Interested in experiencing the thrill of liftoff up close? Look to the section on the left side of the launch schedule page for launch viewing information.

Why does the launch schedule change so frequently?
A launch depends on the success of a wide variety of considerations: payload, launch vehicle, communications, launch pad, weather and good timing. Problems with any of these can potentially result in an adjusted launch window. Another important factor is the whether the "range" is available to support launch. Managed by the United States Air Force, the Eastern Test Range in Florida and the Western Test Range in California are responsible for radar tracking during launches, as well as some of the data and telemetry from the vehicle during flight.

When a launch is postponed, or "scrubbed," during the countdown, the nature of the problem determines how long the delay will last. Schedule changes are a normal part of the space business and reflect a commitment to launch safety.

What does STS mean?
The overall shuttle program is called the Space Transportation System, or "STS." NASA oversees the program and coordinates flight requirements for all shuttle missions, each of which is designated with an STS number.

Why don't missions always go in order?
Each mission is given a name (such as STS-114, GOES-N, etc.) that corresponds with the mission's objectives. If circumstances change and require the launches to occur in a different order, the mission names will not change. It is common for missions to appear this way on the schedule.

What is a launch window?
The launch window refers to the period of time in which the vehicle can be launched, usually ranging anywhere from one second to several hours. To determine the window, NASA must consider things such as the mission's destination and orbital requirements, whether range support is available, and any other needs that apply to specific missions.

What is a launch vehicle?
Simply put, the launch vehicle is the rocket or space shuttle itself, which carries the payload into space. For example, when space shuttle Discovery carried the U.S. laboratory Destiny to the International Space Station, the shuttle was the launch vehicle and the lab module was the payload. When NASA's Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit" launched aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket, the Delta II was the launch vehicle, and the rover was the payload.

What is a launch site, and why does NASA use more than one?
The launch site is the physical location from which the space shuttle or a rocket takes off. Space shuttles always launch from Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Central Florida. Primary rocket launch sites are Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) near Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California. Missions requiring equatorial orbits are typically launched from Cape Canaveral, while those requiring polar orbits are usually launched from Vandenberg. NASA also has secondary launch sites at Kodiak Island, Alaska, and the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Is NASA involved in every launch?
Although NASA is in charge of all space shuttle missions, the agency is not involved in all rocket launches. This schedule lists all missions in which NASA is the launch agency or a partner. These missions are launched on rockets purchased from private companies based on the specific requirements of the payload and the goals of the mission. Many commercial, military and international missions launched from the U.S. and around the world are not affiliated with NASA.

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