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.

Orion Makes a Big Splash for Artemis II

The Orion spacecraft structural test article was successfully drop tested April 6 in the hyrdro impact basin at NASA’s Langley Research Center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia. Data collected from 500 sensors during the drop will help researchers finalize computer models of extreme landing conditions prior to Artemis II. This was the second of four drops in this series of tests.

 

Under Pressure! New Rainbird System Will Protect Artemis II

Water spraying out of a nozzle for rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Water flows through a small-scale, 3D-printed nozzle during prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

As NASA prepares for the uncrewed Artemis I test flight, teams at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center are also hard at work getting ready for the Artemis II mission that will send astronauts on a trip around the Moon ahead of a crewed lunar landing.

Water flows through large nozzles during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 24, 2021, that can be used for the crewed Artemis II mission to the Moon. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

This includes assessing a new prototype “rainbird” system designed to protect the mobile launcher – as well as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – when the engines roar to life. The March 24 tests included running various water pressures through small-scale, 3D-printed nozzles to capture data that can be used to develop full-scale hardware.

The rainbirds will release enough water to fill 40 swimming pools in 40 seconds. This massive volume will help absorb the heat and energy when SLS, the most powerful rocket the agency has ever built, lifts off with the Orion spacecraft from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.

While upgraded rainbirds – large-scale water nozzles – have already been tested and installed on the mobile launcher for the Artemis I launch, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) found room for improvement. This led teams from EGS and supporting contractors to start testing another prototype system to distribute water more evenly to maximize performance ahead of the Artemis II launch.

Water flows through a nozzle during rainbird testing for the Artemis II mission.
Alongside the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams with the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems and supporting contractors conduct prototype testing of a new rainbird system on March 24, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

“By running our prototype through a range of pressures, we can simulate what each of the rainbirds will see on the mobile launcher on launch day and have a better understanding of how they will perform when we scale them back up to full size,” said Dave Valletta, a design engineer at Kennedy working on the ignition overpressure protection and sound suppression (IOPSS) system.

A critical piece of the IOPSS system, the rainbird got its name decades ago when space shuttle developers noted that it looked like a garden sprayer.

“When we saw the pattern of the water discharge during the first test flow in the shuttle program, it reminded us of your common lawn sprinkler, only it did not rotate and was 100 times the size,” said Jerry Smith, a design engineer for mechanical-fluid systems at Kennedy.

Once prototype testing is complete, allowing better prediction of future spray patterns, the team will move forward with designing a preferred concept. That concept will be built and installed on the mobile launcher to undergo verification and validation testing, where the newly installed nozzles will be fully integrated with the launch pad to ensure they work as expected.

“The confidence check gained from these tests will lead us to developing full-scale nozzles for the mobile launcher,” said Gerald Patterson, IOPSS and fire suppression system operations engineer and test lead. “Once installed, they’ll provide more efficient water distribution across the deck and, ultimately, better protection to ground systems, the SLS rocket, and its crew for Artemis II and beyond.”

NASA Begins Major Assembly of Rocket Stage for First Crewed Artemis Mission

The NASA team is moving parts of the Space Launch System rocket to begin assembly of the forward, or upper part, of the rocket’s core stage for the Artemis II Moon mission. On March 19, the intertank was moved to the vertical assembly area at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans where the core stage is manufactured. The intertank flight hardware is part of the upper portion of the core stage that will help power Artemis II, the second flight of the deep space rocket and the first crewed lunar mission of NASA’s Artemis program.

Space Launch System rocket’s intertank
The Space Launch System rocket’s intertank is the first piece of the upper part of the core stage to be moved for stacking in the vehicle assembly area at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

To form the massive, 212-foot-tall core stage for the agency’s Moon rocket, five major structures are joined together: the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank, and engine section. NASA and Boeing, the core stage prime contractor, are preparing to connect three structures together to create the forward assembly of the core stage. The process of stacking and assembling the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, and intertank is called the forward join, and it is the first major vertical integration of hardware for the Artemis II core stage. The intertank is first installed in a vertical stacking cell at Michoud. Later, teams will move the liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt to the same area to stack the three structures together.

Ifographic on forward joinThe intertank contains avionics that are the “brains” of the rocket. It also serves as one of the main attach points for the twin solid rocket boosters that work with the core stage to send SLS to space. The core stage will supply propellant and power to the four RS-25 engines at the bottom of the stage to produce the remaining 2 million pounds of thrust needed to send the Artemis II mission to orbit.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon. SLS and Orion, along with ground systems at Kennedy, 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. (NASA image)

NASA, Canadian Space Agency Formalize Gateway Partnership for Artemis Program

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) finalized an agreement between the United States and Canada to collaborate on the Gateway, an outpost orbiting the Moon that will provide vital support for a sustainable, long-term return of astronauts to the lunar surface as part of NASA’s Artemis program. This Gateway agreement further solidifies the broad effort by the United States to engage international partners in sustainable lunar exploration as part of the Artemis program and to demonstrate technologies needed for human missions to Mars.

Under this agreement, CSA will provide the Gateway’s external robotics system, including a next-generation robotic arm, known as Canadarm3. CSA also will provide robotic interfaces for Gateway modules, which will enable payload installation including that of the first two scientific instruments aboard the Gateway. The agreement also marks NASA’s commitment to provide two crew opportunities for Canadian astronauts on Artemis missions, one to the Gateway and one on Artemis II.

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SLS Rocket Core Stages Taking Shape for Artemis II and III

Technicians are simultaneously manufacturing NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) core stages for the Artemis II and Artemis III lunar missions at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The core stage for the deep space rocket consists of two huge propellant tanks, four RS-25 engines, and miles of cabling for the avionics systems and flight computers. All the main core stage structures for Artemis II, the first mission with astronauts, have been built and are being outfitted with electronics, feedlines, propulsion systems, and other components. Engineers are welding the core stage structures for the Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface, through a process called friction stir welding. The manufacturing progress for Artemis II and III comes as the first core stage for the SLS rocket undergoes Green Run testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

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Orion Test Article Ready to Make Another Splash for Artemis

The Orion spacecraft Structural Test Article (STA) completed its cross-country road trip Tuesday to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in preparation for a series of water impact tests at the center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility.

Data from the upcoming drop tests in 2021 will be used for final computer modeling for loads and structures prior to the Artemis II flight test, NASA’s first mission with crew. Artemis II will carry astronauts around the Moon and back, and will pave the way to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface during Artemis III.

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Orion Test Articles Arrive to Kennedy for Testing on Future Artemis Missions

NASA’s Super Guppy arrives at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility in Florida on Sept. 11, 2020, carrying the Orion Service Module Structural Test Article (SM-STA). Photo credit: NASA/Yulista Tactical Services, LLC/Tommy Quijas

The Orion Service Module Structural Test Article (SM-STA), composed of the European Service Module (ESM) and Crew Module Adapter (CMA), arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida following the completion of the test campaign to certify the Orion Service Module for Artemis I. Transported via Super Guppy from Lockheed Martin’s test facility in Denver, Colorado, on Sept. 11, components will now be used in testing for future Artemis missions.

“The Orion SM-STA supported testing in multiple configurations to validate the structural robustness of the vehicle under a variety of conditions that a spacecraft will experience on lunar missions for the Artemis program,” said Rafael Garcia, Orion Test and Verification lead.

At Kennedy, the Orion SM-STA test article will be separated from the CMA test article, and portions of the CMA test article will support qualifications tests in preparation for the Artemis II mission. The test version of the ESM will remain at Kennedy, in order to support future structural qualification tests such as testing what volume of sound and how much shaking the vehicle can handle for future Artemis missions.

When tested together, the full test stack of Orion verified the spacecraft’s structural durability for all flight phases of the Artemis I flight, which is designed to be an opportunity to test the kind of maneuvers and environments the spacecraft will see on future exploration missions. The test structures experienced launch and entry loads tests, intense acoustic vibration force, and shock tests that recreate the powerful blasts needed for critical separation events during flight. A lightning test was performed to evaluate potential flight hardware damage if the vehicle were to be hit by lightning prior to launch.

The Artemis II flight will test a hybrid free return trajectory, which uses the Moon’s gravitational pull as a slingshot to put Orion on the return path home instead of using propulsion. With astronauts aboard the spacecraft, additional validation is required of all vehicle components to certify the capsule prior to proving lunar sustainability with Artemis III and beyond.

The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.

Artemis Plan to Land First Woman, Next Man on Moon in 2024

Following a series of critical contract awards and hardware milestones, an update on NASA’s Artemis program is now available, including the latest Phase 1 plans to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024.

In the 18 months since NASA accepted a bold challenge to accelerate its exploration plans by more than four years and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade, the agency has continued to gain momentum toward sending humans to the Moon again for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

The document captures Artemis progress to date, identifying the key science, technology and human missions as well as the commercial and international partnerships that will ensure we continue to lead in exploration and achieve our ambitious goal to land astronauts on the Moon.

>>Download and read the Artemis Plan

Heat Shield Milestone for First Artemis Mission with Crew

Image Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently finished meticulously applying more than 180 blocks of ablative material to the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft set to carry astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II.

The heat shield is one of the most critical elements of Orion and protects the capsule and the astronauts inside from the nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, about half as hot at the Sun, experienced during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere when coming home from lunar velocities.

Prior to installation, several large blocks of the ablative material called AVCOAT were produced at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. They were then shipped to Kennedy and machined into 186 unique smaller blocks before being applied by the technicians onto the heat shield’s underlying titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin.

To continue preparing the heat shield, engineers will conduct non-destructive evaluations to look for voids in the bond lines, as well as measure the steps and gaps between the blocks. The gaps will be filled with adhesive material and then reassessed. The heat shield will then undergo a thermal test after which it will be sealed, painted and then taped to help weather on-orbit thermal conditions. Once all testing has been completed, later this year the heat shield will be installed and bolted to the crew module.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Orion, along with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Artemis II will be the first crewed mission of Orion atop the SLS rocket.