First Platforms are Retracted Ahead of Artemis I First Rollout to Launch Pad

Teams retracted the first two of 20 platforms surrounding the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft that allow work on the integrated system in High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first platforms to be retracted – which move like hydraulic kitchen drawers when moved – are those located near the launch abort system on Orion in preparation for rollout to Launch Complex 39B for the Artemis I wet dress rehearsal. Photo credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Artemis I Moon rocket is getting closer to rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time.

The first two of 20 platforms surrounding the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft that allow work on the integrated system inside the building were retracted for roll out to Launch Complex 39B. Teams retracted the platforms, which move like hydraulic kitchen drawers, near the launch abort system on the Orion spacecraft in anticipation of the roll.

Teams are continuing to install instrumentation on the SLS’s twin solid rocket boosters inside the VAB. Thousands of sensors and special instruments will monitor the rocket and spacecraft as they roll out for the first time on March 17 and make the four-mile journey to Launch Complex 39B, arriving on March 18. Engineers will capture as much data as possible on the performance of all the systems that are part of the rocket, spacecraft, ground systems used for rollout, and on the pad for propellant loading and other activities. Once all the rocket and spacecraft systems are inspected, the 322-foot-tall rocket will roll to the launch pad for the wet dress rehearsal test, which is scheduled to occur approximately two weeks after it arrives to 39B.

The last steps remaining before rollout include inspecting each piece of the rocket and spacecraft, including physically entering different components of SLS and, step-by-step, making sure SLS and Orion are ready for the trip to the launch pad. As inspections continue, the Kennedy ground systems team is working to remove equipment and scaffolding away from the rocket and will continue retracting the platforms until the entire rocket is revealed.

Artemis I Countdown Test Complete

Artemis I chart of test and checkout milestonesEngineers and technicians successfully completed a second countdown sequencing test on Jan. 24 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is one of the final tests for the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft ahead the Artemis I mission, and brings the team one step closer to rolling to the launch pad in mid-February for the wet dress rehearsal test.

The test demonstrated the ground launch software and ground launch sequencer, which checks the health and status of the rocket sitting on the pad. The simulated launch countdown tested the responses from the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, ensuring the sequencer operates correctly. On launch day, the ground launch sequencer hands off to the rocket and spacecraft, and an automated launch sequencer takes over control of the rocket from ground controllers around 30 seconds before launch.

Up next the team will work to complete the final program specific engineering tests for the Artemis I mission. With the countdown sequencing test complete, Exploration Ground Systems teams will continue doing final checks and closeouts of the Moon rocket in preparation for the wet dress rehearsal test next month. For wet dress rehearsal, engineers will fully load SLS with propellant, and the team on the ground will run through all the pre-launch operations to prepare for the Artemis I launch.

Artemis I Core Stage Engineering Testing Complete

This week, engineers and technicians successfully completed an engineering test series of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as part of the integrated testing before launch.

After replacing and testing one of four RS-25 engine controllers, the team conducted several tests to ensure the massive core stage is ready to roll to the launch pad for the wet dress rehearsal ahead of the Artemis I launch. Engineers and technicians tested communication between the flight computers and other core stage systems and slightly moved the engines to practice the gimbaling they will experience during flight.

All four engine controllers were powered up and performed as expected as part of the Artemis I Core Stage engineering tests. Following the power up, engineers successfully performed diagnostic tests on each controller.

Up next, the team will conduct a second countdown sequencing test to demonstrate the ground launch software and ground launch sequencer, which checks for health and status of the vehicle while at the pad. The simulated launch countdown tests the responses from SLS and the Orion spacecraft, ensuring the sequencer can run without any issues. After the countdown test and final closeouts are complete, SLS and Orion will head to the launch pad for the first time to complete the wet dress rehearsal test.

Artemis I Integrated Testing Continues Inside Vehicle Assembly Building

Graphic chart of Artemis I milestones to laucnh.Engineers and technicians continue to complete integrated tests inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as part of the lead up to launch of the Artemis I mission.

On Dec. 17, the team completed a communications end-to-end test to ensure the rocket, spacecraft and ground equipment can communicate with the consoles in the launch and mission control centers. This verification of communication systems via radio frequency ensures the launch team will be able to monitor the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft on the ground as well as during flight. The test used an antenna in the VAB, another near the pad that will cover the first few seconds of launch, as well as a more powerful antenna that uses the Tracking Data Relay Satellite and the Deep Space Network.

On Dec. 20, the Exploration Ground Systems team conducted a countdown sequencing test to demonstrate the ground launch software and ground launch sequencer, which checks for health and status of the vehicle sitting on the pad. The simulated launch countdown tested the responses from SLS and Orion, ensuring the sequencer can run without any issues. On launch day, the ground launch sequencer hands off to the rocket and spacecraft and an automated launch sequencer takes over around 30 seconds before launch. Engineers have added a second sequencing test before rollout to account for differences between the emulator and flight hardware identified during the initial test.

Last week engineers and technicians successfully removed and replaced an engine controller from one of four RS-25 engines after the team identified an issue during a power-up test of the rocket’s core stage. Engineers are now performing standard engine controller diagnostic tests and check-outs, including controller power-up and flight software load. Subsequently, the team will work to complete all remaining SLS pre-flight diagnostic tests and hardware closeouts in advance of a mid-February rollout for a wet dress rehearsal in late February. NASA will set a target launch date after a successful wet dress rehearsal test.

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

Lift Underway to Top Mega-Moon Rocket with Orion Spacecraft

Orion lifted atop SLS rocket in the VAB
Photo Credit: Chad Siwik

Final stacking operations for NASA’s mega-Moon rocket are underway inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as the Orion spacecraft is lifted onto the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission. Engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Jacobs attached the spacecraft to one of the five overhead cranes inside the building and began lifting it a little after midnight EDT.

Next, teams will slowly lower it onto the fully stacked SLS rocket and connect it to the Orion Stage Adapter. This will require the EGS team to align the spacecraft perfectly with the adapter before gently attaching the two together. This operation will take several hours to make sure Orion is securely in place.

NASA will provide an update once stacking for the Artemis I mission is complete.

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.

Orion Spacecraft Goes ‘Shields Up’ for Artemis I

The four ogive fairings for the Orion Artemis I mission are installed on the launch abort system assembly inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 20, 2021.
The four ogive fairings for the Orion Artemis I mission are installed on the launch abort system assembly inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 20, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are putting the final touches on the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission by connecting the ogive fairings for the launch abort system (LAS) assembly.  Pronounced oh-jive, the ogive fairings consist of four protective panels, and their installation will complete the LAS assembly.

Technicians and engineers from the center’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs recently finished attaching the launch abort tower to the top of the Orion crew module. They then began lifting and mating the lightweight fairings, which will shield the crew module from the severe vibrations and sounds it will experience during launch. One of the fairing panels has a hatch to allow access to the crew module before launch.

During Artemis missions, the 44-foot-tall LAS will detach from the spacecraft when it is no longer needed, shortly after launching on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, to lighten the journey to the Moon. Although the abort motors will not be active on the uncrewed Artemis I flight test, the system is intended to protect astronauts on future missions if a problem arises during launch or ascent by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket.

Once LAS installation is complete, the spacecraft will leave the Launch Abort System Facility and continue on its path to the pad, making its way to the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building to be integrated with the SLS rocket ahead of the launch.

Teams Add Launch Abort System to Ready Orion for Artemis I

NASA's Orion spacecraft
The Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission arrives at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System facility on July 10, 2021, after being transported from the Florida spaceport’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility earlier in the day. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission recently completed fueling and servicing checks while inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule has now made it to its next stop on the path to the pad – the spaceport’s Launch Abort System Facility.

Crowning the spacecraft with its aerodynamic shape, the launch abort system is designed to pull crew away to safety from the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in the event of an emergency during launch. This capability was successfully tested during the Orion Pad Abort and Ascent Abort-2 tests and approved for use during crewed missions.

Teams with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs will work to add parts of the launch abort system onto the spacecraft. Technicians will install four panels that make up the fairing assembly and protect the spacecraft from heat, air, and acoustic environments during launch and ascent. A launch tower will top the fairing assembly to house the pyrotechnics and a jettison motor. The system will also be outfitted with instruments to record key flight data for later study.

With successful demonstration of the system during previous tests, the abort motor that pulls the spacecraft away from the rocket and attitude control motor that steers the spacecraft for a splashdown during an abort will not be functional for the uncrewed Artemis I mission. The jettison motor will be equipped to separate the system from Orion in flight once it is no longer needed, making Orion thousands of pounds lighter for the journey to the Moon.

Once the system’s integration is complete, teams will transport the spacecraft to the center’s Vehicle Assembly Building. There, it will join the already stacked flight hardware and be raised into position atop the SLS rocket, marking the final assembly milestone for the  Artemis rocket.

Launching in 2021, Artemis I will be a test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under Artemis, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and establish long-term lunar exploration.

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Fueling Underway For Artemis I Launch

A view of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
A view of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 18, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

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.

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.