See NASA's Huge SLS Mega Moon Rocket in Satellite Pictures From Space

NASA's enormous Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has been spotted from space, towering over launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The rocket was spotted by a satellite within the Pléiades Neo network—a group of four Earth observation satellites operated by European aerospace company Airbus.

Airbus released images on Twitter showing the Kennedy Space Center as seen from Earth orbit. Zooming in, SLS can clearly be seen standing on the launch pad, its orange core stage standing out among the surrounding gray concrete and green grass.

The images also show the path that SLS travelled along to get to the launch pad from the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)—a more than four-mile journey that took over 10 hours.

SLS is NASA's flagship rocket, a project for which NASA has received more than $20 billion so far, Ars Technica reports. It forms the backbone of NASA's plans for the next generation of human spaceflight missions that will take astronauts back to the moon within a few years under the Artemis program—and onwards to Mars after that.

Under a European Space Agency contract, Airbus has built a key part of the Orion capsule which will carry astronauts aboard the SLS when it eventually carries out crewed launches. Airbus has built the European Service Module section of Orion, which maneuvers the spacecraft and supplies the crew with water and oxygen.

Design and development of SLS has been underway for more than a decade. With the rocket now finally on the launch pad, its first flight seems tantalizingly close. However, there are a couple of milestones still to be passed before the rocket can leave the launchpad for space.

NASA engineers are currently preparing the rocket for what's called a wet dress rehearsal—a pre-flight test in which the rocket will be powered up and pumped full of fuel. The rehearsal will see launch teams bring the rocket close to launch, even conducting a full launch countdown, before cancelling with just seconds to go.

The rocket will then be drained of fuel and returned to the VAB, where some final checks and modifications will be made. SLS will then return to the launch pad around a week before launch.

Its first mission, Artemis I, will be the first flight test of SLS. During the mission, the rocket will be used to launch an uncrewed Orion astronaut capsule beyond the moon on a journey that will take around four to six weeks. The capsule will then return to Earth.

Artemis I will be followed by Artemis II, the first crewed flight of SLS and the Orion capsule. Four astronauts will be sent on a roughly 10-day mission in which they will pass the orbit of the moon before returning to Earth.

Artemis II will be followed by Artemis III—the mission that will see astronauts returning to the surface of the moon for the first time in decades.

According to the BBC, the wet dress rehearsal for SLS is likely to occur in early April, possibly April 3. NASA has not set an exact date for the launch of Artemis I, but it's expected to be around late spring or summer.

SLS
SLS pictured rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022. The rocket will be used to help NASA take astronauts to the moon in the coming years. Joel Kowsky/NASA/Getty