NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems team, including engineers, technicians and crane operators with contractor Jacobs, are practicing lifting and stacking operations with pathfinder segments of Northrup Grumman’s solid rocket boosters, which will provide extra thrust for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Practice took place in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
”The pathfinder training has gone extremely well,” according to Michael McClure, Jacobs’ lead engineer for the Handling, Mechanical and Structures Engineering Group. “This is part of a series of practice exercises, which are providing great experience, especially for our new technicians, engineers, quality control personnel and crane operators.”
Stacking rehearsals help prepare the team for actual processing of launch hardware for Artemis missions. These specific pathfinder segments are inert, full-scale replicas of the actual solid rocket boosters, with the same weight (300,000 pounds) and center of gravity.
During launch hardware processing, the booster segments will be shipped by train to Kennedy from the Northrup Grumman facility in Utah. They will arrive at a processing facility to be configured for final processing, then move to the VAB, where the launch processing team will stack them vertically on the mobile launcher. After the boosters are stacked, the SLS Core Stage will be lowered onto the mobile launcher and will be mated to the boosters.
At launch, the five-segment, 17-story-tall twin boosters will provide 3.6 million pounds of thrust each at liftoff to help launch the SLS carrying Orion on Artemis I, its first uncrewed mission beyond the Moon.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.