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.

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.

View additional photos here.

Backbone of NASA’s Moon Rocket Joins Boosters for Artemis I Mission

Space Launch System core stage
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs lower the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage – the largest part of the rocket – onto the mobile launcher, in between the twin solid rocket boosters, inside High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 12, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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The core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for NASA’s Artemis I mission has been placed on the mobile launcher in between the twin solid rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The boosters attach at the engine and intertank sections of the core stage. Serving as the backbone of the rocket, the core stage supports the weight of the payload, upper stage, and crew vehicle, as well as carrying the thrust of its four engines and two five-segment solid rocket boosters.

After the core stage arrived on April 27, engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs brought the core stage into the VAB for processing work and then lifted it into place with one of the five overhead cranes in the facility.

Once the core stage is stacked alongside the boosters, the launch vehicle stage adapter, which connects the core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), will be stacked atop the core stage and quickly followed by the ICPS.

Artemis I will be an uncrewed test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.

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 inside 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.

SLS Rocket Stage and Orion Share Space at Kennedy ahead of Artemis I

The ICPS is inside the Multi-Payload Process Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 18, 2021.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) moved into the Multi-Payload Processing Facility February 18, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the Artemis I mission. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) moved into the Multi-Payload Processing Facility February 18, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida alongside one of its flight partners for the Artemis I mission, the Orion spacecraft. Both pieces of hardware will undergo fueling and servicing in the facility ahead of launch by teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and their primary contractor, Jacobs Technology. The rocket stage and Orion will remain close during their journey to space.

The ICPS is moved into the Multi-Payload Process Facility on Feb. 18, 2021 at Kennedy Space Center.
The interim cryogenic propulsion stage is in view inside the Multi-Payload Processing Facility on Feb. 18, 2021, at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Built by United Launch Alliance and Boeing, the ICPS will be positioned above the core stage and will provide the power needed to give Orion the big push it needs to break out of Earth orbit on a precise trajectory toward the Moon during Artemis I.

This is the first time since the shuttle program that two pieces of flight hardware have been processed inside this facility at the same time. Once final checkouts are complete, the ICPS and Orion will part ways on the ground and be reunited in the Vehicle Assembly Building for integration onto the SLS rocket.

Artemis I will be an integrated flight test of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft ahead of the crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface and establish a sustainable presence at the Moon to prepare for human missions to Mars.

View additional photos here.

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.

NASA Test Directors Eagerly Await Artemis Launch

Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Jeremy Graeber and Jeff Spaulding in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center
NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, above, confers with Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding, left, and Test, Launch and Recovery Operations Branch Chief Jeremy Graeber in Firing Room 1 at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Control Center during a countdown simulation. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Before NASA’s mighty Space Launch System (SLS) rocket can blast off from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center to send the Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, teams across the country conduct extensive testing on all parts of the system. Guiding that effort at the Florida spaceport are NASA test directors, or NTDs.

NTDs within the Exploration Ground Systems program are in charge of flight and ground hardware testing in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center firing rooms 1 and 2, where activities involved with preparing rockets, spacecraft and payloads for space can be controlled from computer terminals. They are responsible for emergency management actions, helping lead the launch team during all facets of testing, launch and recovery.

NASA’s Artemis missions will land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, beginning with Artemis I, the uncrewed flight test of SLS and Orion.

“It’s certainly an amazing feeling to be responsible for setting up the building blocks of a new program which will eventually take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno.

Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno
Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA

Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. This includes proving the functionality of flight and ground systems for the assembled launch vehicle configuration, verifying the mobile launcher arms and umbilicals operate as expected at launch, and performing a simulated launch countdown with the integrated vehicle in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The 14-year NTD veteran relishes his hands-on role in successfully testing and launching SLS — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Zeno said. “What excites me about the future is that the work I’m doing today is contributing to someday having humans living and working on other planets.”

There are 18 people in the NTD office — all of whom must undergo rigorous certification training in the management and leadership of test operations, systems engineering and emergency response. They are in charge of the people, hardware and schedule during active firing room testing.

“The NTD office is at the center of testing operations, which will ensure that we are ready to fly the Artemis missions,” said Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “As we lay the foundation for exploring our solar system, the NASA test directors are on the front lines of making it happen.”

An NTD works from a console in the firing room during integrated or hazardous testing, guiding the team through any contingency or emergency operations. They lead critical testing on Launch Pad 39B and the mobile launcher, the 370-foot-tall, 11 million-pound steel structure that will launch the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars. This includes sound suppression, fire suppression and cryogenic fluid flow tests, as well as testing the crew access arm and umbilicals — connections that will provide communications, coolant and fuel up until launch.

While the majority of work for the ground and flight systems is pre-liftoff, the job certainly doesn’t end there.

Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding
Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

“It culminates in a two-day launch countdown in which all of the groups, teams and assets are required to function together in an almost flawless performance to get us to launch,” said Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding.

Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. For Artemis I, he is leading the launch control team and support teams during the launch countdown for Blackwell-Thompson, who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of SLS.

Just over three miles from the launch pad, on launch day, Spaulding will be in the firing room running the final portion of cryogenic loading through launch. During this time, supercool propellants — called cryogenics — are loaded into the vehicle’s tanks. He will perform the same tasks for the wet dress rehearsal, which is a full practice countdown about two months before launch that includes fueling the tanks and replicating everything done for launch prior to main engine start.

At the end of the mission, part of the team will lead the recovery efforts aboard a Navy vessel after Orion splashdown. The NASA recovery director and supporting NTDs are responsible for planning and carrying out all operations to recover the Orion capsule onto a U.S. Navy ship. This includes working closely with the Department of Defense to ensure that teams coordinate recovery plans, meet requirements, and follow timelines and procedures to bring our heroes and spacecraft home quickly and safely.

“We are supported by numerous teams at Kennedy and elsewhere around the country that are helping us with our historic first flight as we blaze a path toward landing astronauts on the Moon in 2024,” Spaulding said.

Team Practices Booster Stacking for Artemis Missions

In High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane moves Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket booster pathfinder segments to stack them atop other pathfinder segments during a training exercise on Jan. 8, 2020.
In High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane moves Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket booster pathfinder segments to stack them atop other pathfinder segments during a training exercise on Jan. 8, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

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.

Watch a time lapse video of booster segment training at https://go.nasa.gov/2ts6u3w.