Artemis 1 SLS booster stacking nearing completion
The stacking of the twin solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System is nearly complete with only one set of segments remaining.
Engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have been assembling the twin 17-story-tall, five-segment boosters since early January. These boosters will provide the bulk of the thrust for the SLS rocket during its first two minutes of flight.
NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon as early as 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program start in a big way with the Artemis 1 mission, which is set to see the first SLS fly an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon.
Currently, the agency is hoping to launch Artemis 1 as early as November 2021. A second flight, this time with a crewed Orion, is slated for 2023.
Under the Artemis program, NASA is aiming to send the first woman and next man on the Moon with commercial and international partnerships. The agency hopes to use new technologies “to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.”
Ultimately, the Artemis Moon landings are expected to be a stepping stone to sending astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s.
The SLS rocket is being assembled inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building, which is one of the largest buildings in the world. Standing 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide with high bay doors that take 45 minutes to open and close, one can be struck by the sheer volume of the building itself.
On the outside of the VAB is the largest U.S. flag. It is painted on the south side of the building and measures 209 feet tall and 110 feet wide.
The VAB was completed in 1966 with the purpose of assembling NASA’s Saturn 5 rocket for the Apollo program. It was used to assemble 135 space shuttle stacks between 1980 and 2011.
For each mission, the associated rocket was built on mobile launcher platforms and transported via a crawler transporter to nearby Launch Complex 39A or 39B.
The Space Launch System will be doing the same thing. Only this time, instead of the space shuttle solid rocket booster’s four segments, those for the SLS will use five-segment boosters.
Booster stacking atop this modern-era mobile launcher began in November 2020 when the aft, or bottom, sections of the twin rockets were installed on platform.
Stacking the remaining eight segments began Jan. 7, 2021, and is expected to be completed sometime in the next several weeks.
These boosters segments are being stacked onto the mobile launcher one-by-one using a crane located inside the VAB.
Once the twin boosters are completely stacked, the process of assembling the first SLS will have to wait until the massive core stage for the Artemis 1 arrives from NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where it is currently undergoing final testing.
Worth noting, at the time of this writing, the core stage’s four RS-25 engines shut down during a planned static fire Jan. 17 at the Stennis Space Center.
NASA has evaluated the cause of the problem (an overly-conservative parameter setting), and expected to redo the test as early as the week of Feb. 21.
Now that booster stacking us underway, NASA has one year to launch Artemis 1. This limit is a result of the projected molecular decay in the boosters’ solid fuel.
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.