NASA prepares SLS megarockets for first Crewed Artemis Lunar Missions.


This artist’s rendering shows an aerial view of the liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. This Block 1 crew configuration of the rocket will send the first three Artemis missions to the Moon. Credit: NASA/MSFC
This artist’s rendering shows an aerial view of the liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
This Block 1 crew configuration of the rocket will send the first three Artemis missions to the Moon.
(Image Credit: NASA/MSFC)

 NASA and its partners throughout the nation have made significant progress in developing the rocket for Artemis II, the first crewed Artemis mission, as teams continue to prepare NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for its inaugural flight with the launch of Artemis I. Major components for Artemis missions III, IV, and V are also being manufactured and tested by the crew.

"The Space Launch System team is not just developing one rocket, but numerous rockets for exploratory missions and future SLS flights beyond the first Artemis launch," said NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama's John Honeycutt, SLS program manager. "The Artemis I mission is the first in a series of progressively difficult missions to expand human presence on the Moon. The tremendous power and capabilities of the SLS rocket will enable missions to go further and quicker across the solar system."

SLS generates more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust with its two solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines, allowing each Artemis mission to launch beyond Earth's orbit and to the Moon. Some of the most extensive, most sophisticated, and most dependable hardware parts ever created for space travel are included in the rocket.

Casting and assembly of solid rocket booster, shown her, for the Artemis IV mission is underway
 at Northrop Grumman’s factory in Promontory, Utah. The booster motors for Artemis II and Artemis III
have completed casting and are ready to go to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where they will be assembled
with other booster hardware being prepared for the missions.( Image Credit: NASA)

SLS provides propulsion in stages to power NASA's next-generation deep space missions. The core stage's four RS-25 engines and the twin boosters burn during launch to carry SLS off the launch pad and into orbit. The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) provides in-space propulsion to propel NASA's Orion spacecraft and crew on a precise route toward the Moon once it is in orbit.

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On July 28, 2021, the ICPS, the first piece of rocket gear for Artemis II, landed in Florida. It is now undergoing final preparations at principal contractors Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) and will be shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center shortly. The ICPS fires its Aerojet Rocketdyne-supplied RL10 engine to launch the Orion spacecraft toward the Moon. ULA's Decatur, Alabama plant is already producing the Artemis III ICPS.

"The Space Launch System is a very capable launch vehicle that has been purposefully developed and carefully tested to safely deliver people, huge cargo, and flagship research missions to deep space destinations," said John Blevins, chief engineer for the Space Launch System at Marshall. "From the start, the SLS rocket was designed to safely transport humans to space while also evolving into a more powerful version that can support a range of missions."

The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – for Artemis II arrived at the Space Coast on July 28, 2021.
It is undergoing final preparations at prime contractors Boeing and United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) facilities
and will soon be delivered to nearby Kennedy Space Center. The ICPS fires its RL10 engine, provided by Aerojet
 Rocketdyne, to send the Orion spacecraft toward the Moon. ULA is already building the Artemis III ICPS in its
factory in Decatur, Alabama. (Image Credit: NASA)

The Artemis I SLS rocket and the SLS rockets that will launch future missions were built with the collaboration of every NASA facility and over 1,000 different firms throughout the United States. The boosters and RS-25 engines – the rocket's primary propulsion parts – for the Artemis II and Artemis III missions are nearing completion. Northrop Grumman, the boosters' primary contractor, has finished casting all of the booster motor segments for Artemis II and Artemis III and has begun casting pieces for Artemis IV in Utah. The five-segment solid rocket booster is the most powerful space launch vehicle ever manufactured.

After Artemis I, the RS-25 principal contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne prepares the RS-25 engines for the following three SLS missions. The engines have been thoroughly tested and incorporated into their respective core stages as the project nears completion. Artemis II's engines have arrived at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where they will be mated with the SLS core stage. Aerojet Rocketdyne's plant at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, prepares the Artemis III engines for flight. The firm is already producing engines for missions beyond Artemis IV.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy get a look at the
Space Launch System (SLS) core stage engine section that will be part of the
Artemis IV Moon rocket. The core stage and its four RS-25 engines produce
2.2 million pounds of thrust to help launch mission. NASA and lead contractor
Boeing are building core stages for three Artemis missions at the agency’s Michoud
Assembly Facility in New Orleans. They also have started development work on the
Exploration Upper Stage, a powerful rocket stage, that can send even more payload
to the Moon than the rocket’s initial configuration for the first three missions.
(Image Credit: NASA)

Boeing manufactures each 212-foot-tall core stage at Michoud. Teams can produce numerous rocket stages at once because of the factory's 2.2 million square feet of production area and cutting-edge manufacturing technology. At Michoud, NASA and Boeing, the SLS core stage lead contractor, are constructing core stages for Artemis II, Artemis III, and Artemis IV. In addition to the core stage, test items for the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), which will power the Block IB version of the rocket beginning with the Artemis IV mission, have started production at Michoud.

"At Michoud, the new equipment has been installed to manufacture the Exploration Upper Stage at the same time as the core stages," stated Steve Wofford, NASA's SLS Block IB project manager. The EUS will deliver 83,000 pounds to the Moon, which is 40% more payload than the ICPS used on early Artemis missions and 70% more than any other rocket."

Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, Alabama, and Marshall, the cone-shaped launch vehicle stage adapters and Orion stage adapters for Artemis II and Artemis III. The adapters are crucial linkages between the core, the ICPS, and the Orion spacecraft. The universal stage adapter will link the EUS to the Orion spacecraft and serve as a payload storage compartment for missions beyond Artemis III, allowing substantial payloads like logistics modules or additional exploration spacecraft to be carried. Engineers from RUAG Space USA finished panels for a universal stage adapter test article. They handed them to Dynetics in Huntsville, Alabama, the adapter's principal contractor, who is putting the test article together in readiness for testing later in 2022.

NASA's Artemis mission will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon's surface, laying the groundwork for long-term lunar exploration in preparation for human expeditions to Mars. SLS and NASA's Orion spacecraft and the human landing system and the Gateway in lunar orbit form NASA's deep space exploration foundation.


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