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.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a premier multi-user spaceport, uses research and innovation to support the future of space exploration. Kennedy’s annual Best of KSC Software competition is an employee-driven contest that fosters creativity and enables new discoveries to improve the quality of life on Earth and the exploration of our solar system and beyond.
The 2020 winner of Best of KSC Software was SpecsIntact 5. The development team, made up of NASA employees and contractors from across the center, earned this distinction by redesigning the SpecsIntact software. This automated specification management system is used in construction projects worldwide. The upgraded system reduces the time and cost required to produce facility specifications with an easy and intuitive interface that assists with quality control.
The team at Kennedy Space Center manages the SpecsIntact system, which also is used by many federal and state agencies, including the U.S. military. At Kennedy, NASA used previous versions of the software for the design, construction, and upgrades of several facilities, including modification of the spaceport’s headquarters building and upgrades to the main flame deflector in the flame trench at Launch Pad 39B.
The SpecsIntact system has evolved significantly since first conceived at NASA in 1965 to support applications across both the government and private sector. NASA’s Technology Transfer Program ensures that innovations developed for exploration and discovery are broadly available to the public, maximizing the benefit to the nation. The program enables U.S. industry efforts to find new applications for NASA technologies on Earth and for human space exploration, including deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.
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.
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.
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.