On Dec. 9, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine showed off the Space Launch System liquid-fueled rocket stage that will send the first Artemis mission to space. The core stage, built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, is the largest NASA has produced since the Apollo Program.
NASA and the Michoud team will shortly send the first fully assembled, 212-foot-tall core stage to the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., aboard the Pegasus barge for final tests.
Surrounded by key NASA personnel and officials from Congress, as well as state and regional government, Bridenstine said the milestone marked a new chapter in the Artemis story as the agency works to answer the charge from to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.
“The completion of the SLS core stage is a major milestone and a testament to American enterprise and ingenuity,” said Bridenstine. “With more than 1,100 large and small businesses in 44 states contributing to the design and assembly, the SLS rocket will empower America to achieve the Artemis program’s goal of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.”
Artemis I will launch the SLS rocket and an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon to test the systems of both the rocket and the spacecraft. The core stage Green Run tests will pave the way for successful Moon missions, and it is the final test series ahead of the Artemis I launch. The series will mark the first full test of the entire SLS core stage, including the stage’s extensive propulsion, avionics and flight software systems.
With a design featuring some of the most sophisticated hardware ever built for spaceflight, the core stage is the powerhouse of the SLS rocket. The five major structures — the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank and engine section — that make up the stage are manufactured and assembled at Michoud. The 43-acre facility includes state-of-the-art welding and manufacturing tools to produce the huge, 27.6-feet-in-diameter tanks and barrels.
“Earlier this year, NASA revised its assembly plan to connect the stage horizontally rather than vertically,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program Manager. “By doing so, NASA advanced its timeline so that our teams could meet our goal to complete assembly on the core stage by the end of the year. It was great to have for employees, stakeholders and the public to join us in the factory to mark the occasion.”
Assembly and integration of the massive stage and its four RS-25 engines have been a collaborative, multistep process for NASA and its partners Boeing, the core stage lead contractor, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, the RS-25 engines lead contractor.
Artemis Day welcomed media and social media influencers for a rare glimpse inside the Michoud factory where they saw not only the integrated core stage but also large structures that will be connected to form the core stage for Artemis II, the first mission to send astronauts to lunar orbit, as well as components for Artemis III, the mission that will put humans back on the lunar surface. Attendees participated in a full day of events and activities, including extended tours of the facility and two discussion panels with engineers and technicians building the hardware for NASA’s next generation Moon missions.
“Michoud is proud of its nearly 60 year history in manufacturing and assembling large vehicles and components for our nation’s space program,” said Robert Champion, director of NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility.
SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission. SLS, Orion, and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration and the Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.