NASA has taken a big step toward the launch of the Artemis 1 moon mission after placing the core stage of its SLS (Space Launch System) booster between its twin rockets.
The delicate crane-assisted operation, which took place inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, was filmed and shared online as a time-lapse (top). In the video, engineers standing close to the core stage offer a sense of scale as the huge piece of machinery is lowered into place.
“Serving as the backbone of the rocket, the core stage supports the weight of the payload, upper stage, and [Orion] crew vehicle, as well as carrying the thrust of its four engines and two five-segment solid rocket boosters,” NASA said in a report on the recent stacking procedure. “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.”
Next, the launch vehicle stage adapter that links the core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) will be placed on top of the core stage before the ICPS is added, too.
The SLS rocket we see here will launch the uncrewed Artemis 1 test mission sometime between November 2021 and March 2022. The vehicle will send an Orion spacecraft on a flyby of the moon in a bid to fully test its systems. The Artemis 2 mission, which is expected to take place in 2023, will replicate the first mission, only this time with astronauts on board Orion. Artemis 3, currently slated for 2024, will endeavor to land the first woman and next man on the moon as part of efforts to establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2030.
When fully stacked, the SLS rocket will stand at 98.1 meters (322 feet), making it 5.2 meters (17 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty. As it blasts off the launchpad, the three boosters will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust — that’s 13% more thrust than the Space Shuttle and 15% more than the powerful Saturn V rocket that powered earlier crewed missions to the moon.
Demonstrating its awesome power, NASA recently conducted a tethered hot-fire test of the core stage of the SLS rocket, blasting it at full power for more than eight minutes to simulate a real launch.
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