Rocket hardware join underway for first crewed Artemis mission

Astronaut safety #1 priority as Boeing Michoud team assembles top half of 2nd Space Launch System rocket’s core stage

May 19, 2021 in Space

Hardware for the Artemis II Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket – destined to lift a crewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit – is well underway, even as elements of the first rocket are being integrated and prepared for launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Boeing, responsible for the core stage, upper stages, and avionics for the rocket, is refining core stage production at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans, while assembling the 212-foot-tall SLS core stage. Assembly begins with connecting the top section in a series of maneuvers called forward join.

“We’re still learning, and making improvements to the factory, while driving out inefficiencies and driving in innovations,” said Jennifer Boland-Masterson, director of Boeing operations at NASA Michoud. “It’s essential that we make this build increasingly more affordable, and faster, while keeping safety and reliability in front of us every step of the way.”

Boeing assembled the Artemis II core stage’s liquid oxygen tank and intertank last week at Michoud, and began preparations to install the forward skirt, before connecting the internal systems.

Boeing technicians also are working on the bottom half of the Artemis II core stage, installing the main propulsion system in the engine section, and applying thermal protection spray for the liquid hydrogen tank. Once that work is complete, the bottom and top halves will be joined in final assembly.

Each of the five core stage elements includes some of the most sophisticated hardware ever built for spaceflight, and each has a unique purpose. So outfitting each is done differently, including integration of computers, batteries, wiring and instrumentation, propellant plumbing and other systems.

“This build is for a crewed flight, and we think about that every day,” said Boland-Masterson. “Core stage is the backbone of the rocket, with miles of cables, all the computers and electrical systems – the brains of the rocket – and all the plumbing that work together to launch the rocket during the first eight minutes of the mission. Every team member understands that responsibility.”