Spaceflight Insider

Welding completed on first piece of SLS Exploration Mission 1 hardware

Space Launch System SLS engine section at Michoud Assembly Facility NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: NASA

The engine section of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has successfully undergone final welding at the space agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility located near New Orleans. This is the first major piece of flight hardware to finish welding prior to Exploration Mission 1 – an all-important test flight of the full stack of SLS and the agency’s new crew-rated Orion vehicle.

Exploration Mission 1 Space Launch System SLS core stage photo credit Scott Johnson SpaceFlight Insider

NASA and Boeing are producing an array of components meant to validate SLS’ design prior to its first flight in 2018. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

That test flight is currently set for late in 2018. Boeing, the prime contractor on SLS’ core stage, is working to have all of the welding for the SLS Block I configuration finished by this summer (2016). This includes flight hardware, as well as qualification and confidence components as well.

The apparatus used to produce SLS’ large sections – the Vertical Assembly Center at the MAF – is, like its charge, enormous, towering some 170 feet (52 meters) in height.

The engine section is the ‘business end’ of SLS. It will be the home of four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engines. These engines were known for the past 30 years as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). They were re-serviced and returned to flight after each mission that one of the orbiters undertook. Unfortunately, they will not be recovered after their flights on SLS.

SLS’ core stage will stand an imposing 200 feet (61 meters) in height and serve as the massive rocket’s fuel tank, storing cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen which will fuel the RS-25s.

If everything continues to go as planned, the qualification version of the engine section will be transported to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center located in Huntsville, Alabama, later in 2016. It will be used to carry out structural load tests and has already finished welding.

As has been noted on and elsewhere, NASA has been ramping up production on SLS by getting the equipment in place, carrying out tests, test flights, and utilizing its existing assets, such as being part of the International Space Station, to prepare the agency for crewed flights to deep space destinations. The agency hopes to have astronauts fly on SLS as soon as the early 2020s.



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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