Core Stage Pathfinder Departs Kennedy

Backdropped by clouds lit by sunrise, NASA’s Pegasus barge departs the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf.
Backdropped by clouds lit with sunrise, NASA’s Pegasus barge departs the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf. Photo credit: Cory Huston

NASA’s Pegasus barge, with the 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder secured inside, departed the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 31, 2019.

The 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder is moved inside the Pegasus barge on Oct. 28, 2019, in preparation for departure.
The 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder is moved inside the Pegasus barge on Oct. 28, 2019, in preparation for departure. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The pathfinder is a full-scale mock-up of the rocket’s core stage. It was used by the Exploration Ground Systems Program and its contractor, Jacobs, to practice offloading, moving and stacking maneuvers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building using ground support equipment to train employees and certify all the equipment works properly. The pathfinder was at Kennedy for about a month.

The barge is carrying the pathfinder back to the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.

Large and on a Barge: SLS Core Stage Pathfinder Arrives at Kennedy

NASA’s Pegasus Barge arrives at the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 27 to make its first delivery to Kennedy in support of the agency’s Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA/Mike Downs

NASA’s Pegasus Barge arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 27, carrying the 212-foot-long core stage pathfinder for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Weighing in at 228,000 pounds, the pathfinder is a full-scale mock-up of the rocket’s core stage and will be used to validate ground support equipment and demonstrate it can be integrated with Kennedy facilities.

NASA’s Pegasus Barge makes its way along the intercoastal waterway to its destination at the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf on Sept. 27, to make its first delivery to Kennedy in support of the agency’s Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA/Mike Downs

After arriving at the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf – a docking area initially used during the Space Shuttle Program that has been modified to accommodate SLS hardware deliveries – the pathfinder was moved into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Sept. 30, where it will remain for testing for about one month.

While in the VAB, pathfinder will provide NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and contractor Jacobs with the opportunity to practice stacking maneuvers in the VAB’s High Bay 3 prior to the arrival of the SLS flight hardware that will be processed for the agency’s Artemis I mission.

“This will help ensure that all core stage engineers and technicians are trained and certified in preparation for the flight core stage processing,” said Jim Bolton, EGS core stage element operations manager at Kennedy. “It’s a very significant milestone that will demonstrate the capabilities and ability for KSC to receive, process and integrate that flight hardware.”

The core stage – the largest rocket stage in the world and the backbone of SLS – will provide the power necessary to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit and to the Moon. Before it can be brought to Kennedy for processing, the core stage will undergo its first full test with all flight hardware, known as a green run, at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Following this, Pegasus will make its return journey to Kennedy in 2020 – this time, delivering the SLS core stage for launch.

Learn more about the SLS rocket’s pathfinders at: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/pathfinders-prepare-teams-for-one-of-a-kind-hardware.html

Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility Ready for Artemis 1

The Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Technicians watch as a crane and special mechanism begin breakover, or flipping, of the mated Thrust Resistance Structure and the Guidance Control Assembly for the Orion Program’s Ascent Abort-2 flight test during practice, or pathfinder activities, June 22, 2018, inside Exploration Ground Systems’ Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility high at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Many pathfinding tests were completed on the flight hardware in preparation for the flight test. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will receive the solid rocket booster segments for final assembly of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The agency’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team successfully completed the system acceptance review and operational readiness review for the facility on July 25, 2019. This review evaluated the RPSF’s readiness to receive, process, integrate and launch flight hardware for Artemis 1 and beyond.

“The RPSF is the first processing facility at Kennedy to reach operational readiness status, and our team is looking forward to the arrival of the flight hardware so we can get to work preparing for the Artemis 1 launch,” said Mike Chappell, EGS associate program manager with lead contractor, Jacobs.

When the booster segments arrive at Kennedy, the pieces are inspected before two 200-ton cranes are positioned to lift the segments from a horizontal position to a vertical position. The RPSF also will receive the booster aft skirt from the Booster Fabrication Facility. During processing, the aft segment is attached to the aft skirt and aft exit cone.

All of the SLS solid rocket components processed in the RPSF will be transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building for final assembly with the SLS core stage and Orion spacecraft on top of the mobile launcher for the agency’s Artemis missions.

The RPSF is part of the infrastructure at Kennedy that will help NASA launch the Artemis missions and send the first woman and next man back to the Moon by 2024.