Backbone of NASA’s Moon Rocket Joins Boosters for Artemis I Mission

Space Launch System core stage
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs lower the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage – the largest part of the rocket – onto the mobile launcher, in between the twin solid rocket boosters, inside High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 12, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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The core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for NASA’s Artemis I mission has been placed on the mobile launcher in between the twin solid rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The boosters attach at the engine and intertank sections of the core stage. Serving as the backbone of the rocket, the core stage supports the weight of the payload, upper stage, and crew vehicle, as well as carrying the thrust of its four engines and two five-segment solid rocket boosters.

After the core stage arrived on April 27, engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs brought the core stage into the VAB for processing work and then lifted it into place with one of the five overhead cranes in the facility.

Once the core stage is stacked alongside the boosters, the launch vehicle stage adapter, which connects the core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), will be stacked atop the core stage and quickly followed by the ICPS.

Artemis I will be an uncrewed test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.

NASA Prepares to Stack Moon Rocket’s Core Stage

The fully stacked twin solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket are mated atop the mobile launcher at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as stacking and assembly activities for NASA’s Artemis I mission are underway. Crews from the spaceport’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs teams are currently preparing to lift the 188,000-pound core stage and place it in between the two solid rocket boosters. Teams will use a specialized crane to lift, place, and secure the core stage on the mobile launcher inside the spaceport’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

The fully stacked twin solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket
Credit: NASA

The 212-foot-tall core stage, which will provide more than 2 million pounds of thrust at launch, arrived at Kennedy on April 27. Together with the two solid rocket boosters, the SLS rocket will provide more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust to launch the first of NASA’s next-generation Artemis Moon missions. Soon after the core stage activity, crews will stack and integrate other elements of the rocket needed for launch preparedness testing that occurs inside the VAB before final assembly of the rocket and the addition of the Orion spacecraft. The mobile launcher serves as a platform not just for stacking but as a key supplier of power, communications, coolants, and propellant for the rocket and spacecraft before launch.

With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon and establish sustainable exploration in preparation for missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.