Spaceflight Insider

ULA delivers SLS upper stage test article to Boeing

United Launch Alliance Space Launch System upper stage Boeing Decatur Alabama photo credit Scott Johnson SpaceFlight Insider

United Launch Alliance Space Launch System upper stage in Decatur, Alabama. (Click to enlarge.) Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

DECATUR, Ala. — On Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, United Launch Alliance (ULA) symbolically handed over the first test version of the Space Launch System (SLS) upper stage to Boeing, the primary contractor for the SLS first (core) stage and avionics. The hand-over marked a critical step toward the massive rocket’s first flight.

ULA manufactured the stage, known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), at its 43 acre Decatur, Ala., rocket factory where it produces both the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles. The ICPS is a modified version of the Delta IV second stage – the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS).

The handover was symbolic in that the ICPS will remain at ULA until late spring of 2016. At that time, it will be wheeled from ULA to a nearby Tennessee River dock, loaded on a barge, and shipped a few miles up-river to the historic Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) dock where Saturn V stages were once loaded / unloaded.

Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test Article Graphic. Photo Credit: NASA

Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test Article Graphic. Photo Credit: NASA

After arriving at MSFC, the ICPS will be mated with an Orion / MPCV simulator, an Orion / MPCV stage adapter, a test version of the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA), a simulated Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10 engine, and a core stage simulator. This assembly, collectively known as the Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test Article (STA), will be placed in a test stand and subjected to simulated flight structural / load tests.

SLS is intended to be the most powerful rocket ever built – capable of carrying astronauts in NASA’s Orion spacecraft on deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Its first flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), an uncrewed test flight around the Moon, is scheduled for 2018.


Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

Reader Comments

Robert van de Walle

Wow. So, let me see if I understand this: today, nothing happened.

It sounds like ULA finished building the test article, but MSFC isn’t ready for it yet, so it stays at ULA until the other pieces of the upper stage test article are ready.

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