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.
Teams with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Exploration Ground Systems and primary contractor, Jacobs, are fueling the Orion service module ahead of the Artemis I mission. The spacecraft currently resides in Kennedy’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility alongside the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS), the rocket’s upper stage that will send Orion to the Moon. After servicing, these elements will be integrated with the flight components of the Space Launch System, which are being assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Technicians began loading Orion’s service module with oxidizer, which will power the Orbital Maneuvering System main engine and auxiliary thrusters on the European-built service module ahead of propellant loading. These auxiliary thrusters stabilize and control the rotation of the spacecraft after it separates from the ICPS. Once the service module is loaded, teams will fuel the crew module to support thermal control of the internal avionics and the reaction control system. These 12 thrusters steady the crew module and control its rotation after separation from the service module.
Once Orion servicing is complete, teams will fill the ICPS. This liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system will push the spacecraft beyond the Moon for the test flight under the agency’s Artemis program. In several weeks, when fueling is complete, Orion will move to the center’s Launch Abort System Facility to integrate its launch abort system, and the ICPS will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be stacked atop the mobile launcher.
The twin boosters will power the first flight of the agency’s new deep space rocket on its first Artemis Program mission. Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights.
NASA marked another milestone on the path toward the launch of Artemis I on Saturday, as engineers moved the Orion spacecraft out of the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building on its way to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the spacecraft will be fueled for its mission around the Moon.
The milestone marked completion of years of assembly and testing operations for the spacecraft and formal transfer of the spacecraft from the Orion Program and its prime contractor Lockheed Martin to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team responsible for processing the vehicle, integrating it with the Space Launch System rocket, and launching them on their inaugural mission together.
The spacecraft was moved out of the O&C aboard a transport pallet and air bearing system which sits on top of a transporter. In the MPPF, it will be moved into a service stand that provides 360-degree access, allowing engineers and technicians from EGS, its lead contractor Jacobs Technology, and other support organizations to fuel and service the spacecraft. Crane operators will remove the transportation cover and use fuel lines and several fluid ground support equipment panels to load the various gases and fluids into the crew and service modules.
After Orion is fueled and engineers perform final checks in the MPPF, they will move the spacecraft to the Launch Abort System Facility, where EGS will install the Launch Abort System tower and the ogive panels that protect the crew module and LAS and provide its aerodynamic shape.
Orion is a critical component for NASA’s deep space exploration plans. During Artemis I, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown – 280,000 miles from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about a three-week mission.
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.
The launch team for Artemis I is back in the firing room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for more practice. The team conducted a simulation on the procedures for cryogenic loading, or fueling the Space Launch System rocket with super cold propellants. During simulations potential problems are introduced to the team to test the application of firing room tools, processes, and procedures.
The Exploration Ground Systems team of launch controllers who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be practicing the procedures several more times ahead of launch. Special protocols have been put in place to keep personnel safe and healthy, including limiting personnel in the firing room, using acrylic dividers and adjusting assigned seating for the cryo team.