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Launch Schedule 101
March 31, 2014

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, mission, and description is provided in bold. The description of the mission may provide the rocket description, the location of the launch, and a short description of the mission.

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 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 itself, which carries the payload into space. For example, when NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the Atlas V was the launch vehicle, and the spacecraft 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 rocket takes off. 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. Astronauts departing for the International Space Station launch aboard Russian Soyuz vehicles from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Suborbital research missions are launched from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. 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?
The agency is not involved in all rocket launches. This schedule lists all missions in which NASA is the launch agency or a partner. Many missions are launched on rockets purchased from private companies based on the specific requirements of the payload and the goals of the mission. Commercial, military and international missions not affiliated with NASA are launched from the U.S. and around the world.

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Page Last Updated: March 31st, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator