NASA prepares mega SLS rockets for manned lunar missions

The giant rockets that will take NASA astronauts to the moon in a few years are starting to come together.

In a brief status update released Tuesday (January 11), NASA officials wrote that the agency and its manufacturing partners have made “great progress” in crafting the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for Artemis 2, a manned rocket in lunar orbit. The mission aims to take off in 2024. Testing and manufacturing of SLS parts are also underway for the Artemis 3 moon landing mission, now scheduled for no earlier than 2025, and its successor Artemis 4, the agency said.

“The Space Launch System team is not just building a rocket, but manufacturing multiple rockets for exploration missions and future SLS flights beyond the initial Artemis launch,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at the NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. .

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“The Artemis 1 mission is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will extend our presence on the moon,” Honeycutt added. “The unprecedented power and capabilities of the SLS rocket will send missions further and faster throughout the solar system.”

In July, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) of the Artemis 2 SLS was the first piece to arrive in Florida, near its launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). ICPS is now completing final preparations at the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Boeing facilities for delivery to KSC, NASA officials said. The ICPS for Artemis 3 SLS is under construction at the ULA factory in Decatur, Alabama. The stage will be used to push the Orion crew capsule towards the moon.

Meanwhile, the propellants and RS-25 engines for the Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 rockets are “in the final stages of assembly,” NASA officials said. Artemis 2 engines are ready for integration with the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, while Artemis 3 engines are in preparation at an Aeroject Rocketdyne facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for RS-25). Manufacture of RS-25 on missions beyond Artemis 4 is ongoing.

Additionally, technicians from aerospace company Northrop Grumman completed casting of booster engine segments for Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 in Utah and are beginning work on segments for Artemis 4, NASA officials said.

In the update, NASA also noted progress on items such as cone-shaped launch vehicle stage adapters for Artemis 2 and 3, along with panel fabrication for a universal stage adapter test item for future missions. .

Artemis is NASA’s manned lunar exploration program, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on and around the Moon by the late 2020s.

The space agency currently aims to land astronauts on the lunar surface no earlier than 2025, on the Artemis 3 mission. That mission was originally scheduled for 2024 under the administration of President Donald Trump. But it was delayed for a variety of reasons, from funding issues to technical concerns with items like spacesuits and a now settled federal lawsuit over the Artemis Human Landing System contract, which was awarded to SpaceX in April 2021.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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