NASA is working on a next-generation launch system called Space Launch System, or SLS, hoping to create a transport system to take astronauts of the future to the Moon and beyond. Design and manufacturing for SLS was already underway last year, and now NASA has announced their progress towards the first mission for the new system, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2020.
The first part of the new system is a crew capsule called Orion. Engineers are currently working on stacking the crew and service modules together and checking that they operate harmoniously. Once these fitting tests are complete, the stacked modules will be taken to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio where they will be tested in a thermal vacuum and against electromagnetic interference. Then the modules will return to the Kennedy Space Center for final testing before they are integrated with SLS.
The second part of the system is the SLS rocket. Production of the first flight’s core stage is nearly completed, and once finished the SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world. The other part of the core stage being worked on is the engine section, which sits at the bottom of the core stage and feeds propellant into the four powerful RS-25 engines. Once this section is complete it will be connected to the 130-foot-long liquid hydrogen propellant tank, then also to the forward section which includes the liquid oxygen tank.
All of the preparations are building towards the EM-1 unmanned test flight in 2020, followed by a mission to send a crew around the Moon and back to Earth in a second mission called Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) by 2023.
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