Final Piece of Rocket Hardware Added to Artemis I Stack

Final OSA stacked on top of the ICPS
After successfully completing the integrated modal test, technicians removed the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter structural test article and the Mass simulator for Orion. Then, they moved the Orion stage adapter flight hardware to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On Oct. 9, the Orion stage adapter was connected to the top of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) that provides the power to send Orion to the Moon. Soon, Orion, which rides on top of SLS, will be stacked to complete the Artemis I spaceship. Artemis I is the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. This uncrewed flight test will be followed by Artemis II, which will be the first mission to send astronauts on a mission to orbit the Moon.

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The last piece of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket hardware has been added to the stack at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Crews with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs added the Orion stage adapter to the top of the rocket inside the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building. To complete the Artemis I stack, crews will soon add the Orion spacecraft and its launch abort system on top of Orion stage adapter.

The Orion stage adapter, built at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama connects Orion to the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which was built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. During the mission, the ICPS will fire one RL10 engine in a maneuver called trans-lunar injection, or TLI, to send Orion speeding toward the Moon.

As Orion heads to the Moon for its mission, the ICPS will separate from Orion and then deploy 10 secondary payloads that are riding to space inside the Orion stage adapter. These CubeSats have their own propulsion systems that will take them on missions to the Moon and other destinations in deep space.

While the ICPS and Orion stage adapter are making it possible for SLS to send its first science payloads to space on this uncrewed mission, they only will be used for the first three Artemis missions. The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a more powerful stage with four RL10 engines, will be used on future Artemis missions. The EUS can send 83,000 pounds to the Moon, which is 40 percent more weight than the ICPS. The EUS makes it possible to send Orion, astronauts, and larger and heavier co-manifested payloads to the Moon.

Artemis I will be followed by a series of increasingly complex missions. With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human 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.

All Artemis I Secondary Payloads Installed in Rocket’s Orion Stage Adapter

Technicians have loaded the last of 10 CubeSats into the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s five-foot-tall Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After the Orion spacecraft separates from the SLS rocket for a precise trajectory toward the Moon, the shoebox-sized payloads are released from the Orion stage adapter to conduct their own science and technology missions.

SLS’s main goal for the Artemis I mission is to successfully send the uncrewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit where it can test out critical spacecraft systems and then return to Earth testing the spacecraft’s heat shield at lunar reentry speeds. The Orion stage adapter connects the rocket to Orion and contains room inside the adapter to provide a rare opportunity to send the CubeSats to deep space using extra lift-capacity on the uncrewed mission. The CubeSats will study everything from the Moon to asteroids to the deep space radiation environment. Each CubeSat provides its own propulsion and navigation to get to various deep space destinations.

Nine of the ten CubeSats were loaded into the adapter earlier this summer. The last CubeSat to be placed aboard was BioSentinel, the sole CubeSat among this group of satellite payloads that contains a living microorganism, and which was refrigerated until loading in order to preserve its biological contents as long as possible for the mission. BioSentinel’s primary objective is to detect and measure the effect of space radiation on living organisms – in this case, yeast – over long durations beyond low-Earth orbit. A similar experiment is being carried out on the International Space Station so that research teams can compare radiation effects experienced on the station about 250 miles above Earth to those encountered in deep space near the Moon, more than 240,000 miles away.

BIOSENTINEL installed in OSA and other CubeSats in OSA
The Jacobs team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installing the last of 10 CubeSats in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter. Biosentinel, the final CubeSat to be loaded, will study how radiation affects living organisms in deep space. Biosentinel joins nine other CubeSats that will be studying a variety of destinations, including the Moon, and scientific areas important to deep space exploration.

Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Loma Linda University Medical Center, and the University of Saskatchewan, It is among the first studies of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. Human cells and yeast cells have many similar biological mechanisms, including DNA damage and repair, and BioSentinel’s experiments can help us better understand the radiation risks for long-duration deep space human exploration.

OSA with all the CubeSats installed.
All 10 secondary payloads have been installed in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter. The SLS rocket had extra capacity to give the “hitchhiking” CubeSats a free ride on the Artemis I mission. The mission’s primary goal is a flight test of the integrated SLS and Orion system. The Orion stage adapter connects the SLS rocket to Orion and had slots built into it for the payloads. The CubeSats provide their own deployment and propulsion systems that will take them to specific destinations including the Moon and an asteroid.

Progress continues to complete stacking for the Artemis I mission and check out the integrated hardware operations. The team recently successfully completed two complex tests: the Umbilical Retract and Release Test and the Integrated Modal Test.  Next, the Artemis I Orion stage adapter with the secondary payloads will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and added to complete stacking of the rocket. Then, the Orion spacecraft will be stacked on top of the rocket to complete the Artemis I spaceship. Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to send astronauts to the Moon for long-term exploration that sets the stage for human missions to Mars.

NASA Prepares Three More CubeSat Payloads for Artemis I Mission

Two more secondary payloads that will travel to deep space on the Artemis I mission were integrated for launch on July 23, and another is ready for installation at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The satellites – called CubeSats – are roughly the size of a large shoe box and weigh no more than 30 pounds. Despite their small size, they enable science and technology experiments that may enhance our understanding of the deep space environment, expand our knowledge of the Moon, and demonstrate new technologies that could be used on future missions.

The OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor)
The OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) team prepares their secondary payload for a ride on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket during the Artemis I mission. If successful, OMOTENASHI will be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the lunar surface and will mark Japan as the fourth nation to successfully land a craft on the Moon.

OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) and ArgoMoon, which will both study the Moon, were integrated with their dispensers and installed on the Orion stage adapter along with seven other payloads for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s first flight.  A third payload, the BioSentinel CubeSat is the only CubeSat that will contain a biological experiment on Artemis I and will be the first CubeSat to support biological research in deep space. The team placed it in its dispenser for the flight, and to preserve its biological contents, it is being kept in a controlled environment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At a date closer to launch, it will be placed in the Orion stage adapter.

OMOTENASHI was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).   While OMOTENASHI is one of several Artemis I secondary payloads that are studying the Moon, it is the only one that will conduct a controlled landing on the Moon’s surface. Its primary objective is to test the technologies and trajectory maneuvers that allow a small lander to land on the Moon while keeping its systems – including power, communication, and propulsion systems – intact. Testing these systems around and on the Moon can help with development of similar small landers that could explore other planets. The spacecraft will also measure the radiation environment beyond low-Earth orbit, providing data that will help develop technologies to manage radiation exposure for human exploration. If successful, OMOTENASHI will be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the lunar surface and will mark Japan as the fourth nation to successfully land on the Moon.

ArgoMoon
ArgoMoon, developed by Italian company Argotec and sponsored by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), Italy’s national space agency, was prepared for launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The CubeSat was installed in the Space Launch System Orion stage adapter where it will ride to space during the Artemis I mission.

ArgoMoon, developed by Italian company Argotec and sponsored by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), Italy’s national space agency, will perform autonomous visual-based proximity operations around the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), the in-space stage of SLS, that provides the propulsion to send Orion on a lunar trajectory. The CubeSat will use high-definition cameras and advanced imaging software to record images of the ICPS and later of the Earth and the Moon for historical documentation, provide mission data on the deployment of other CubeSats, and test optical communication capabilities between the CubeSat and Earth. ArgoMoon will use a hybrid micropropulsion system (MiPS) that combines green mono-propellant and cold gas propulsion in a single system to provide attitude control and orbital maneuvering using a small amount of power.

The enhanced attitude capabilities are also used to run and validate artificial intelligence-based algorithms for autonomous Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery systems that perform continuous monitoring of the health of the satellite to detect any potential fault. In the case of fault detection, this service performs several operations to solve the problem. If the fault is not recoverable, the satellite goes in safe mode, which means that only the functionalities to keep the satellite alive and to communicate with ground are used.

ArgoMoon’s mission is a forerunner of technologies for deep space application that can be used for inspection of satellites not originally designed to be serviced, without the involvement of the ground segment.

BioSentinel will be the first long-duration biology experiment to take place in deep space and will be among the first studies of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. Its primary objective is to measure the impact of space radiation on living organisms – in this case, yeast – over long durations beyond low-Earth orbit.

The BioSentinel team
The BioSentinel team prepares their CubeSat to be the first long-duration biology experiment to take place in deep space, and the first study of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. The team placed the CubeSat in its dispenser and to preserve its biological contents, it is being kept in a controlled environment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be placed in the Orion stage adapter at date closer to launch.

Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, BioSentinel will enter an orbit around the Sun via a lunar flyby. The experiment will use yeast as a “living radiation detector” to evaluate the effects of ambient space radiation on biology. Human cells and yeast cells have many similar biological mechanisms, including DNA damage and repair.

The payload carries dry yeast cells stored in microfluidic cards – custom hardware that allows for the controlled flow of extremely small volumes of liquids that will activate and sustain the yeast.  These yeast-filled cards are situated alongside a physical radiation detection instrument – developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – that measures and characterizes the radiation environment. Results from the physical instrument will be compared to the payload’s biological response.  After completing a lunar flyby and spacecraft checkout, the yeast will be rehydrated at various points during the six-month mission. As yeast cells activate in space, they will sense and respond to the radiation damage.

Experiments using the BioSentinel instruments will also take place on the International Space Station and on the ground to demonstrate how varied amounts of radiation affect the yeast. While Earth-bound research has helped identify some of the potential effects of space radiation on living organisms, no terrestrial source can fully simulate the unique radiation environment of deep space. BioSentinel’s data will provide critical insight on the effects of deep space radiation on biology as NASA seeks to establish long-term human exploration of the Moon under Artemis and prepare us for human exploration on Mars.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond low Earth orbit. On its first flight, NASA will demonstrate the rocket’s heavy-lift capability and send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into deep space. The agency is also taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space. All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.

Two More Artemis I Deep Space CubeSats Prepare for Launch

Two additional secondary payloads that will travel to deep space on Artemis I, the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, are ready for launch.

The Team Miles and EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft (EQUULEUS) CubeSats are tucked into dispensers and installed in the Orion stage adapter – the ring that connects Orion to the SLS rocket. They are joining five other secondary payloads that were recently installed. These small satellites, known as CubeSats, will conduct a variety of science experiments and technology demonstrations. The CubeSats will deploy after the Orion spacecraft separates from SLS.

Developed by Miles Space in partnership with software developer Fluid & Reason, LLC, the Team Miles CubeSat will travel to deep space to demonstrate propulsion using plasma thrusters, a propulsion that uses low-frequency electromagnetic waves. The CubeSat was developed as part of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge and sponsored by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program. The team, composed of citizen scientists and engineers, came together through the nonprofit Tampa Hackerspace in Florida to develop Team Miles. The group considers itself a team of “makers,” who are open to trying technologies that may fall outside of engineering norms.

Members of the EQUULEUS (EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft) team
Members of the EQUULEUS (EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft) team prepare their CubeSat to be loaded in the Space Launch System’s Orion stage adapter for launch on the Artemis I mission. This CubeSat, developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, will help scientists understand the radiation environment in the region of space around Earth called the plasmasphere.

Team Miles’ mission will be flown autonomously by a sophisticated onboard computer system. In addition, the breadbox-sized spacecraft will use a software-defined radio for communications with Earth. If successful, the CubeSat will travel farther than this size of craft has ever gone – 59.6 million miles (96 million kilometers) – before ending the mission. (For comparison, the minimum distance from Earth to Mars is around 34 million (54 million) kilometers.)

EQUULEUS, developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, will travel to Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, an Earth-Moon orbit where the gravitational pull of the Earth and Moon equal the force required for a small object to move with them. The CubeSat will demonstrate trajectory control techniques within the Sun-Earth-Moon region and image Earth’s plasmasphere, a region of the atmosphere containing electrons and highly ionized particles that rotate with the planet.

Team Miles works in a clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
Team Miles works in a clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare their CubeSat to be launched on the Artemis I mission. The team designed the satellite to travel farther than this size of craft has ever gone – 59.6 million miles (96 million kilometers) – before ending its mission. The CubeSat was developed as part of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge and sponsored by Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program.

EQUULEUS will measure the distribution of the plasmasphere, providing important insight for protecting humans and electronics from radiation damage during long space journeys. The CubeSat will also measure meteor impact flashes and the dust environment around the Moon, providing additional important information for human exploration. EQUULEUS will be powered by two deployable solar arrays and batteries, propelled by a warm gas propulsion system with water as the propellant.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit and demonstrate the rocket’s heavy-lift capability. The agency is taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space. All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.

Artemis I CubeSats will study the Moon, solar radiation

Three additional CubeSats that will ride aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission are installed in the rocket’s Orion stage adapter that will deploy them toward their deep space destinations.

The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (LunaH-Map), the CubeSat to Study Solar Particles (CuSP) spacecraft, and LunIR were integrated with their dispensers and installed on the Orion stage adapter along with several other small satellites for the first flight of SLS and Orion. Artemis I provides a rare opportunity for CubeSats, each about the size of a large cereal box, to hitch a ride to deep space. The Orion stage adapter connects the Orion spacecraft to the SLS rocket and will carry the CubeSats and deploy them after Orion departs for its lunar exploration mission.

LunaH-Map, developed by Arizona State University and sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), will measure the distribution and amount of hydrogen throughout the Moon’s South Pole. If successful, the LunaH-Map spacecraft will produce a high-resolution map of the Moon’s bulk water deposits, unveiling new details about the spatial and depth distribution of potential ice previously identified during a variety of missions. Confirming and mapping these deposits in detail will help NASA understand how the water got there, how much water might be available, and how it could potentially serve as a resource for longer exploration missions on the Moon. The CubeSat’s mission is designed to last around 60 days.

A team prepares the LunaH-Map
A team prepares the LunaH-Map before its installation in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once deployed from the rocket, the CubeSat will orbit the Moon for two months while searching for water deposits near the South Pole.
LunIR
The LunIR undergoes inspection prior to being loaded in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter for the Artemis I mission on July 14 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During lunar orbit, the satellite will use an infrared sensor to map the Moon’s surface and search for potential landing sites and critical resources for future missions to Mars and beyond.

LunIR was developed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, and sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division under the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The CubeSat will conduct a lunar flyby and use an advanced miniature infrared sensor to gather images and data about the lunar surface and its environment. This effort will help collect data to address knowledge gaps related to transit and long-duration exploration to Mars and beyond. The CubeSat will collect data about the lunar surface, including material composition, thermal signatures, presence of water, and potential landing sites. LunIR’s infrared sensor will be able to map the Moon during both day and night and can collect data at much higher temperatures than similar sensors, thanks to an innovative micro-cryocooler – similar to a refrigerator – designed to reach cryogenic temperatures below minus 234 degrees Fahrenheit.

CuSP will be deployed for an interplanetary mission to study the particles and magnetic fields that stream from the Sun. CuSP was developed by the Southwest Research Institute , NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and is also sponsored by NASA’s SMD. This CubeSat will orbit the Sun with three instruments to measure incoming radiation and the magnetic field that can create a variety of effects on Earth, such as interfering with radio communications, tripping up satellite electronics, and creating electronic currents in power grids. CuSP can observe events in space hours before those events potentially reach Earth.

Team CuSP cheers on the solar CubeSat prior to loading it in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Team CuSP cheers on the solar CubeSat prior to loading it in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. On its first flight, NASA will demonstrate the rocket’s super heavy-lift capability and send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into deep space. The agency is also taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space. All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.

First CubeSats Aboard for Artemis I Mission

The first two CubeSats are aboard for the Artemis I mission as secondary payloads that will conduct a range of science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space.

In preparation for their missions, Lunar IceCube and Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout have been integrated with their dispensers and installed in the Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Housed in the spaceport’s Space Station Processing Facility, the Orion stage adapter connects the top of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Orion spacecraft. The small satellites, roughly the size of large shoeboxes and weighing no more than 30 pounds, enable science and technology experiments that may enhance our understanding of the deep space environment, expand our knowledge of the Moon and beyond, and demonstrate technology that could open up possibilities for future missions. The payloads will deploy from the rocket after the Orion spacecraft  separates from the rocket’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage that provides the propulsion to send Orion to the Moon.

The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout team prepares their secondary payload
The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout team prepares their secondary payload for installation in the Space Launch System rocket’s Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NEA Scout will be deployed and go to an asteroid after the Orion spacecraft separates from the Space Launch System rocket and heads to the Moon during the Artemis I mission.

NEA Scout will be the first CubeSat to travel to an asteroid. The small payload was developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. NEA Scout will be propelled by a square-shaped solar sail that will measure about 925 square feet (86 square meters) when unfurled. The sail is made of an aluminum-coated plastic film that is thinner than a human hair, with an area about the size of a racquetball court. NEA Scout is outfitted with a high-powered camera that will take photographs of and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid that represents asteroids that may one day become destinations for human exploration. Observations will include the asteroid’s position in space, its shape, rotational properties, spectral class, and geological characteristics. NEA Scout’s mission will take approximately two years.

Teams prepare the Lunar IceCube
Teams prepare the Lunar IceCube before its installation in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This small satellite will be deployed from the rocket and will orbit the Moon for six months and search for water and ice with an infrared spectrometer.

Lunar IceCube will search for water ice and other resources from above the surface of the Moon. It was developed by Morehead State University in Kentucky, Busek Space Propulsion and Systems of Massachusetts, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, JPL, and NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. Once deployed, the CubeSat will take up to nine months to arrive at its destination and begin orbiting the Moon. Using state-of-the-art miniature electric thrusters for propulsion and relying on gravity assists from Earth and the Moon, Lunar IceCube will search for water and other materials in ice, liquid, or vapor states that may be useful for future exploration missions. Once in orbit, Lunar IceCube’s mission could last one to six months and the ground station at Morehead State will be used to track the CubeSat for the duration of the mission.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. On its first flight, NASA will demonstrate the rocket’s heavy-lift capability and send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into deep space. The agency is also taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space.

The NEA Scout and Lunar IceCube secondary payloads
The NEA Scout and Lunar IceCube secondary payloads are the first to be installed in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter for the Artemis I mission on July 14 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

 

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.

NASA has named three students the winners of the Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest for their creative visions of a pioneering journey to the Moon. Nearly 14,000 students entered the contest, each competing for the grand prize: a trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where they will witness the first launch of the Artemis era.

NASA invited students to envision themselves leading a crew, or “pod,” on a mission to the Moon’s South Pole, and capture these ideas in their essays. NASA and Future Engineers, an online platform for student challenges, launched the contest in September 2020 for K-12 students nationwide. The contest’s goal is to encourage the Artemis Generation – kids growing up during the era of NASA’s return to the Moon – to think ahead about the human and technological needs of a lunar expedition. What types of tools or technologies would they bring to the Moon? Who would they include in their “pod” of crewmembers? What would they leave behind for future lunar crews to use?

Grand-prize winning essays in the three, grade-level-based categories are:

  • Kindergarten through fourth grade category: Austin Pritts of Wolcott, Indiana.
  • Fifth through eighth grade category: Taia Saurer of Laguna Beach, California.
  • Ninth through 12th grade category: Amanda Gutierrez of Lincoln, Nebraska.

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Artemis I Core Stage Arrives at Kennedy

The final piece of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will send NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon has arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SLS Program delivered the core stage rocket to the center’s Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf after completing a successful series of Green Run tests at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The 212-foot-tall core stage, which is the largest rocket stage NASA has ever built, completed its voyage aboard the agency’s Pegasus barge on April 27. After a 900-mile journey, teams aboard the barge, which was modified to support SLS’s weight and length, safely piloted the specialized self-sustaining vessel to the spaceport.

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NASA Team Preparing Hardware for Future Moon Rockets

Technicians and engineers continue to make progress manufacturing core stages that will help power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for its second and third flights. NASA and Boeing, the lead contractor for the core stage, are in the process of conducting one of the biggest Artemis II milestones: assembling the top half of the core stage.

The 212-foot tall core stage for the SLS rocket is the largest rocket stage NASA has ever produced. The five individual elements that make up the core stage – the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank, and the engine section – are manufactured and assembled at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Together, the elements will supply propellant, vehicle control, and power to the four RS-25 engines at the bottom of the stage to produce more than 2 million pounds of thrust to send missions to the Moon.

The team manufactures every SLS core stage in Michoud’s 43-acre building which provides more than enough space for crews to work in tandem to build the core stages for Artemis II and Artemis III, the second and third flights of the SLS rocket and the first crewed missions of NASA’s Artemis program.

It takes teamwork to build a super heavy-lift rocket. Look behind the scenes at the work being done at NASA’s rocket factory:

The Artemis II Intertank is lifted into the Cell D of the VAB at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility on Friday, March 19, 2021.

Coming together to build the upper part of the rocket

After all the core stage’s large five structures are built and outfitted, these structures are connected during three major joining operations. For first one, the forward or upper parts of the core stage are joined together for the first time. First, teams move the intertank into an assembly area and connect it to the liquid oxygen tank, and then they add the forward skirt to form the entire upper part of the SLS core stage.

Crews with NASA and Boeing, the core stage prime contractor, recently moved the Artemis II intertank, above, to the assembly area where the three components will be stacked.

This image shows the forward skirt that will be used on the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket for Artemis II, the first crewed mission of NASA’s Artemis program, at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. The SLS core stage is made up of five unique elements: the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank, and the engine section. The forward skirt houses flight computers, cameras, and avionics systems. The hardware is located at the top of the 212-foot-tall core stage and connects the upper part of the rocket to the core stage. Soon, technicians will ready the forward skirt for the first of three core stage assembly mates called the forward join. The forward join consists of three main parts -- the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, and intertank – to create the top, or forward part, of the core stage. Together with its four RS-25 engines, the rocket’s massive 212-foot-tall core stage — the largest stage NASA has ever built — and its twin solid rocket boosters will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft, astronauts and supplies beyond Earth’s orbit to the Moon and, ultimately, Mars. Offering more payload mass, volume capability and energy to speed missions through space, the SLS rocket, along with NASA’s Gateway in lunar orbit, the human landing system, and Orion spacecraft, is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration and the Artemis lunar program. No other rocket is capable of carrying astronauts in Orion around the Moon in a single mission. Image credit: NASA/Michael DeMocker

The Artemis II forward skirt, pictured above, has been outfitted and is ready for integration with the other large core stage structures. The forward skirt houses flight computers, cameras, and avionics systems. It is located at the very top of the core stage and connects to the upper part of the rocket.

This image highlights the liquid oxygen tank, which will be used on the core stage of NASA’ Space Launch System rocket for Artemis II, the first crewed mission of NASA’s Artemis program, at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. The SLS core stage is made up of five unique elements: the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank, and the engine section. The forward skirt houses flight computers, cameras, and avionics systems. The liquid oxygen tank holds 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen cooled to minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit. The LOX hardware sits between the core stage’s forward skirt and the intertank. Along with the liquid hydrogen tank, it will provide fuel to the four RS-25 engines at the bottom of the core stage to produce more than two million pounds of thrust to launch NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon. Together with its four RS-25 engines, the rocket’s massive 212-foot-tall core stage — the largest stage NASA has ever built — and its twin solid rocket boosters will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft, astronauts and supplies beyond Earth’s orbit to the Moon and, ultimately, Mars. Offering more payload mass, volume capability and energy to speed missions through space, the SLS rocket, along with NASA’s Gateway in lunar orbit, the Human Landing System, and Orion spacecraft, is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration and the Artemis lunar program. No other rocket can send astronauts in Orion around the Moon in a single mission. Image credit: NASA/Michael DeMocker

Moving through the manufacturing process

The core stage has two huge cryogenic liquid propellant tanks that collectively hold more than 733,000 gallons of liquid propellant to help launch the Space Launch System rocket to the Moon. Moving the immense hardware, especially the two propellant tanks, around the factory is a delicate process.

Teams carefully orchestrate every step of every lift and transport inside and outside the rocket factory. To safely and securely move hardware, they use special transporters and cranes that are designed to contain, hold, and handle the weight of each element. Above, teams move the more than 130-foot-tall liquid hydrogen tank to the same area as the liquid oxygen tank. Both propellant tanks will be used for Artemis II.

The aisles at Michoud are extra-wide to ensure large hardware can be transported throughout the factory. For the next phase of manufacturing, crews recently moved the boat-tail, a fairing-like cover that attaches to the engine section on the bottom of the core stage. The boat-tail is shown in the image foreground, and the engine section for Artemis II can be seen in the background covered with scaffolding. The four RS-25 engines for the SLS rocket will be mounted inside the engine section, and the boat-tail helps to protect and cover most of the four RS-25 engines’ critical systems.

Fusion Weld on H3 R2

It’s all in the details

As crews prepare the core stage elements that will be used for Artemis II for assembly and integration, the hardware for Artemis III is being welded in other areas of the factory. Engineers and technicians use friction-stir welding methods to connect the panels that make up each piece of hardware together and build larger structures. Fusion welding is traditional welding, and it uses heat to plug holes left by machines welding the larger pieces as well as for any necessary weld repairs.

Welding processes help to create the shells, or outside, of the core stage structures. Above, the engine section for Artemis III comes together in the Vertical Weld Center at Michoud. They are made by connecting panels such as the one in the front of this image. The engine section has been completed and moved to another part of the factory. One of the biggest tasks ahead, is outfitting it with a network of internal components and systems that connect to the RS-25 engines.

In May, the core stage team will begin work on the Artemis IV core stage, so three stages will be under construction at the same time. Because of the factory’s size, state-of-the-art equipment, and manufacturing processes, skilled workers can produce multiple rocket stages to power NASA’s next-generation Moon missions through the Artemis program.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. SLS and Orion, along with the 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.