NASA set to complete the SLS rocket Core Stage

The Space Launch System (SLS) engine section, the lowest portion of the massive 212-foot-tall Core Stage for NASA’s mega-rocket, is assembled and ready to be mated to the rest of the other components.

The SLS mega-rocket is touted to be NASA’s most powerful rocket booster that will launch future spacecraft of the space agency to the moon and beyond.

Particularly, the engine section is part of the five main components of what NASA and Boeing call the core stage of the SLS rocket along with the Liquid Hydrogen Tank, Intertank, Liquid Oxygen Tank, and the Forward Skirt.

A diagram from NASA’s Core Stage fact sheet showing the different structural elements (barrels, domes, rings) of the stage and the composition of each of the five major elements.
Source: NASA

On August 29, NASA and Boeing technicians at NASA’s MAF completed assembly and functional testing on the engine section for Artemis I’s core stage, the first flight of SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is also an uncrewed test for both the rocket and the next-generation space capsule.

Notably, NASA is constructing two SLS mega-rockets, with its respective Core Stage-1 and Core Stage-2. The first one will be used for Artemis I, while the latter for Artemis II, which will be the crewed mission that will send man back and the first woman on the lunar surface.

In other words, Core Stage-1 will as pathfinder test article and then be assembled with the rest of the first SLS vehicle to launch the Artemis 1 mission.

After a review of data from two months of functional testing at the MAF, the engine section element of the first SLS Core Stage is complete and is now cleared to be mated to the rest of the vehicle.

SLS Core Stage Production Continues for Rocket’s First Flight
Source: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center | Flickr

In a report published by NASA on September 4, technicians are currently removing the scaffolding structures and will soon be moving the engine section to another part of the facility to prepare it for integration with the rest of the core stage.

Notably, the engine section is one of the most complex and intricate parts of the rocket. The engine section also houses vital systems for mounting, controlling and delivering fuel from the propellant tanks to the rocket’s engines.

However, reaching this engine section milestone took much longer than original estimates, which complicated the schedule for the first SLS launch of Artemis 1.

As a workaround, NASA decided to develop the core stage in a standalone procedure where other parts of the stage was developed in vertical fashion instead of the preferred horizontal construction.

This decision allowed scientists and engineers to continue working on the other four parts of the core stage instead of waiting for the engine section to finish before doing so. Those pieces were bolted together in late May, and standalone work is mostly complete. In parallel, the engine section/boattail assembly was also relocated to the same Final Assembly area at MAF in early April to complete outfitting, connections, and checkouts.

The part of Space Launch System’s engine that’s currently covered by scaffolding, which technicians have already started removing as it will be moved to another part of the facility to prepare it for integration with the rest of the core stage.
Source: NASA | Steven Seipel

Now, the engine section of the 212-foot-tall stage is the last major component in order for it to be horizontally integrated to the core stage.

Once the engine section is joined to the rest of the core stage, the main structure of the stage will be complete.

This September, the team will begin the complicated task of connecting the four RS-25 engines to the main propulsion systems inside the engine section.

The core stage’s two liquid propellant tanks and four RS-25 engines will produce more than 2 million pounds of thrust to send the SLS rocket and Orion on the Artemis lunar missions.

Boeing continues to aim to complete the full stage in December and barge it to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for a full, integrated checkout and acceptance firing as part of the Green Run test campaign.

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