MLP-2 Demolition Creates Opportunities for Artemis Missions

Moblie launcher platform 2
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a truck sprays water along the crawlerway to reduce dust ahead of the crawler-transporter moving the mobile launcher platform 2 (MLP-2) from Launch Pad 39A to a nearby park site in Launch Complex 39. MLP-2 was demolished, making way for newer, more advanced technology to be used in NASA’s Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

The mobile launcher platform 2, or MLP-2, served NASA well, as it was used for more than 50 Apollo and space shuttle missions at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center from 1968 to 2011.

A nine-month demolition project for the 25-foot high, 160-foot long, and 135-foot-wide platform, which weighed 9.1 million pounds, was completed last month. Though MLP-2 was a historic piece of equipment, its removal makes way for newer, more advanced technology at the Florida spaceport.

Mobile launcher platform 2 demolition project
The two mobile launcher platforms are seen at the park site at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 4, 2021. A nine-month demolition project for Mobile launcher platform 2, which used during the shuttle program, was recently completed. NASA/Kim Shiflett

“It was bittersweet having to dismantle MLP-2,” said John Giles, Exploration Ground Systems crawler transporter operations manager. “However, it allows us to make room for newer, more advanced assets to support Artemis missions that will return humans to the Moon and beyond.”

Mobile launcher platforms were used for shuttle missions lifting off from Launch Complex 39A and 39B. These structures did not require a tower since the launch pad had a tower and rotating service structure to allow access to the vehicle.

Since the retirement of the shuttle program, the historic Launch Complex 39A, once the site of Apollo and Saturn V missions, was leased to SpaceX and upgraded to support commercial launches carrying cargo and astronauts into space.

Launch Complex 39B also has changed with the times. It began as an Apollo era structure, was converted for shuttle launches, and now is a clean pad ready to support the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, carrying the Orion spacecraft as the agency returns to the Moon. When SLS lifts off from pad 39B carrying Orion for the Artemis I mission, it will use the new, advanced mobile launcher that comes with a built-in tower.

Click here to watch a time-lapse video of the MLP-2 demolition.

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.

NASA “Meatball” Insignia and ESA Logo Added to Artemis I Fairings

The NASA and ESA insignias are in view on the Orion spacecraft adapter jettison fairings in the MPPF at Kennedy Space Center.
Artemis I extends NASA and ESA’s (European Space Agency) strong international partnership beyond low-Earth orbit to lunar exploration with Orion on Artemis missions, as the ESA logo joins the historic NASA “meatball” insignia on the Artemis I spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels that protect the service module during launch. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

NASA’s Artemis I Orion spacecraft is being outfitted with additional artwork as technicians began installing the logo for ESA (European Space Agency). ESA provided the European-built service module, which provides power and propulsion for the Orion spacecraft, and will also provide water and air for astronauts on future missions.

The NASA and ESA insignias are in view on the Orion spacecraft adapter jettison fairings in the MPPF at Kennedy Space Center.
The ESA (European Space Agency) logo joins the historic NASA “meatball” insignia on the Artemis I spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels that protect the service module during launch. Orion is currently stationed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Artemis I extends NASA and ESA’s strong international partnership beyond low-Earth orbit to lunar exploration with Orion on Artemis missions. The ESA logo joins the historic NASA “meatball” insignia on the Artemis I spacecraft adapter jettison fairing panels that protect the service module during launch.

Orion is currently stationed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility, where it will undergo fueling and servicing by NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and Jacobs Technology teams in preparation for the upcoming flight test with the Space Launch System rocket under the agency’s Artemis program.

Artemis I Boosters Take Shape

The Space Launch System solid rocket boosters are being stacked on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.
The twin solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) are being stacked on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The boosters will power SLS on the Artemis I mission. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Booster stacking continues! The second to last set of segments for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket boosters were placed on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and Jacobs transported the segments from the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility, where they have been since June. Once fully stacked, each booster will stand nearly 17 stories tall. The twin boosters will power the first flight of the agency’s new deep space rocket during the Artemis I mission. This uncrewed flight later this year will test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights.

NASA’s Space Launch System Receives Another Major Boost

SLS solid rocket boosters
The solid rocket boosters will power the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on the Artemis I mission. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The third of five sets of solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket were placed on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The middle segments, painted with the iconic “worm” logo, were lifted onto the launcher by Jacobs and Exploration Ground Systems engineers using the VAB’s 325-ton crane.

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.

Artemis I Boosters Continue to Stack Up

In High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the right-hand center aft booster segment for Artemis I is stacked on the mobile launcher for the Space Launch System (SLS) on Jan. 7, 2021.
In High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the right-hand center aft booster segment for Artemis I is stacked on the mobile launcher for the Space Launch System (SLS) on Jan. 7, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Booster stacking for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is continuing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The second of five segments for the SLS rocket boosters have been placed on the mobile launcher in preparation for the launch of Artemis I later this year. This marks four out of 10 solid rocket booster segments being lifted via crane and placed on the launcher, the structure used to process, assemble, and launch SLS. The twin boosters will power the first flight of SLS, the agency’s new deep space rocket for Artemis I. This uncrewed flight will test the SLS and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

NASA to ‘Rock and Roll’ on Crawlerway Ahead of Artemis I Mission

Crawlerway at Kennedy Space Center
Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are working to ensure the crawlerway is strong enough to withstand the weight and provide stability for the Artemis I mission. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Before the most powerful rocket in existence can lift off for lunar missions, it must first make the 4.2-mile trek from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For the Artemis I mission, the path from the VAB to Launch Complex 39B must be able to support the behemoth Crawler Transporter-2 — as well as the massive weight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion capsule, and the mobile launcher. Teams at Kennedy are working to ensure the crawlerway is strong enough to withstand the weight and provide stability for the Artemis I mission and then some.

“Conditioning the crawlerway is important to prevent a phenomenon we call liquefaction, in which the crawler transporter, the mobile launcher, and the load on it causes the crawlerway to vibrate and shake the soil,” said Robert Schroeder, design manager of the crawlerway conditioning project and engineer at Kennedy. “Essentially, the soil itself will behave like a liquid instead of a solid, which could cause the crawler to tip to one side or the other.”

The crawlerway is currently required to support 25.5 million pounds for the Artemis I mission. However, as essential payloads will be added on future missions, the teams at Kennedy decided to test additional weight so they would be “ahead of the ballgame,” Schroeder said.

Work to prepare the crawlerway began Nov. 23. Over the next few months, technicians will lift several concrete blocks, each weighing over 40,000 pounds, onto the mobile launcher platform used for the space shuttle and Crawler Transporter-2. They will then drive the loaded transporter up and down the path between the VAB and launch pad, with each pass increasingly compacting the soil. By the time the project ends, the crawlerway will have supported more than 26 million pounds.

Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.

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.

Orion Spreads its Wings

Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in preparation for installation on the Artemis I spacecraft, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings for inspection on Sept. 10, 2020, to confirm that it unfurled properly and all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have extended one of the Artemis I solar array wings on Sept. 10, 2020. Prior to installation on the Orion spacecraft, the team performed an inspection to confirm proper extension and to ensure all of the mechanisms functioned as expected. The pictured solar array is one of four panels that will generate 11 kilowatts of power and span about 63 feet. The array is a component of Orion’s service module, which is provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply Orion’s power, propulsion, air and water.

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 I Launch Team Fires Up Fueling Simulation

The Artemis I launch team rehearses loading the SLS rocket with propellants on Aug. 18, 2020.
Inside the Launch Control Center’s Firing Room 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, members of the Artemis I launch team rehearse the procedures for fueling the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with super cold propellants, or cryogenics, on Aug. 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Chad Siwik

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.