First major piece of NASA’s Space Launch System assembled
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) has completed a major milestone with the first major piece of the rocket’s core stage being fully assembled and ready for integration into other hardware in advance of the vehicle’s first test flight—Exploration Mission-1.
The forward skirt is just a small part of the 212-foot (65-meter) core stage, but it’s an important SLS component. It serves a couple roles, one being to house many of the flight computers, and it also connects the upper part of the rocket to the core stage.
“Completion of the core stage forward skirt is a major step in NASA’s progress to the launch pad,” said Deborah Bagdigian in a NASA press release.
Bagdigian serves as the lead manager for the forward skirt at the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center located in Huntsville, Alabama.
“We’re putting into practice the steps and processes needed to assemble the largest rocket stage ever built,” Bagdigian said. “With the forward skirt, we are improving and refining how we’ll conduct final assembly of the rest of the rocket.”
Final assembly of the forward skirt was completed on July 24, 2018, at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Engineers with the US space agency then conducted tests on the assembly, which required the flight computers that will control the rocket’s navigation and communications during ascent to be brought to life for the very first time.
“It was amazing to see the computers come to life for the first time,” said Lisa Espy, the lead test engineer for SLS core stage avionics, in a NASA press release. “These are the computers that will control the rocket as it soars off the pad for Exploration Mission-1.”
Testing of the skirt and avionics resulted in all of the hardware performing nominally to this point. The team will next move on to the installation of avionics systems in the intertank and engine section of the massive launch vehicle’s core stage.
According to NASA, the intertank’s installation will be more complex than the skirt’s. The engine section will be even more complicated as it will need to control hydraulics and hardware that actually control the four RS-25 rocket engines that will power the core stage.
“Each piece of hardware and each test builds to the next,” Espy said. “That’s why we’re excited about the successful forward skirt tests. They lay a solid foundation as we continue to build more and more complex components and get the rocket ready for its first launch.”
Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of the SLS and the second flight for the Orion spacecraft, is expected to take an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a trip to the Moon no earlier than 2020 where it will orbit for more than a week before returning to Earth.
Video courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.