All together: Building up NASA’s Moon rocket

Path to Artemis I launch continues with integration of rocket and crew vehicle systems.

May 11, 2021 in Space

Boeing team members at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late April cheered the arrival of the first Boeing-built core stage that will help launch NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket on the Artemis I mission to the moon. Eager to get hands-on, they immediately began prepping the flight hardware for integration in the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB.

Boeing’s team at Kennedy supports core stage operations during integration, as well as requirements related to launch. Currently, the team is completing refurbishment work on the core stage to correct anticipated wear and tear from its rigorous Green Run test series, which ended with a hot fire simulating launch.

Boeing works with NASA to ensure all systems are “go” to be stacked for flight on the Artemis I lunar mission. Currently positioned horizontally in the VAB, the core stage will be lifted to vertical position and installed in the stacking structure on top of a specially modified mobile launch platform.

Two solid rocket boosters already are assembled on the mobile launcher and will be first to be attached to the core stage, followed by the launch vehicle stage adapter, Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, Orion stage adapter, and finally the Orion spacecraft. SLS will stand 322 feet (98 meters) tall when fully stacked — taller than the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben.

When the core stage docked at Kennedy, Boeing officially transferred ownership of the stage to the NASA Stages program office, which then transferred it to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems. Neil Wright, Boeing senior program manager for SLS Quality, signed the DD250 form for the company.

“It was an amazing moment for me, to represent this incredible Boeing team,” Wright said. “This core stage delivery is the first in a series, signaling that America is on its way back to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo. And we’re proud to be a big part of that new story of human space exploration and discovery.”

The core stage is the foundation of the SLS, housing both propulsion and flight systems for Artemis missions to the moon. After the Artemis I flight test sends an uncrewed mission to the moon, the SLS rocket for Artemis II will send astronauts inside a crewed Orion spacecraft on a trip around the moon and back. The goal of the Artemis program is to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon and to build a sustainable presence there in preparation for missions to Mars.

Boeing is building core stages for the second, third and fourth SLS rockets now at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans.