Science

Artemis mission: NASA’s “mega-rocket” SLS is being assembled

Since the last Apollo mission in 1972, NASA has consistently expressed its desire to return to the moon. It will achieve this objective in 2023 with the Artemis program, signing the return of astronauts to the lunar surface. To propel this manned mission into space, NASA will use its “mega-rocket” SLS, which is currently in the final stages of assembly.

NASA finishes assembling the first of its massive rockets Space Launch System (SLS) that will bring astronauts back to the Moon. Agency engineers on Friday lowered the 64.6m-high center stage of the SLS between two smaller boosters (SRBs) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SLS is the first rocket in NASA’s Artemis-1 mission – which will lay the groundwork for eventually establishing a colony on the lunar surface.

Its maiden launch is slated for later this year and will transport NASA’s vehicle Orion to space for testing. No astronaut will be on board for their maiden flight. NASA probably wants to make sure everything is in order before they put humans on top of a massive, powerful rocket and send them to the moon. The first manned missions are scheduled for 2023.

The main stage of the SLS, between its two boosters (SRB). © NASA

The SLS consists of the giant central stage, which houses propellant tanks, and four powerful engines, flanked by two 54m powder thrusters. They provide most of the pushing force that propels the SLS during the first two minutes of flight. The main floor and the SRBs are taller than the Statue of Liberty, excluding its pedestal.

Friday and Saturday, the teams of Kennedy Space Center used a lifting crane to first lift the center stage, transfer it from a horizontal position to a vertical position, and then lower it between the SRBs on a structure called a mobile launcher. This structure currently resides inside the huge Cubic Vehicle Assembly (VAB) building.

vertical rocket main stage
In order to be able to place the main stage between the two SRBs, the engineers had to orient the main stage vertically via the lifting crane. © NASA

The mobile launcher provides access to the SLS for testing, monitoring and maintenance. It will also transfer the giant rocket to the launch pad. Engineers started stacking the SRBs on the mobile launcher in November of last year.

Meanwhile, the main stage was attached to a test bed in Mississippi, undergoing a comprehensive assessment program known as the Green Run. In March, the main stage engines were successfully fired for about eight minutes – the time it took for the SLS to get from ground to space – in the final and most important test of the Green Run.

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