Spaceflight Insider

First SLS hardware turned over to Ground Systems for EM-1 flight

Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for EM-1 Transport from HIF to DOC

On April 11, 2017, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is being moved out of the United Launch Alliance Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the Delta Operations Center. Photo & Caption Credit: Kim Shiflett / NASA

NASA reports that the rocket stage designated to accelerate the Orion spacecraft to the Moon in 2019 has been turned over to the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) team at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The flight stage – called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – is being processed for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion.

Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) Transport from DOC to SSPF

Packed inside its canister on July 26, 2017, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage has been moved inside the low bay of the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Photo & Caption Credit: Kim Shiflett / NASA

Progress toward a 2019 launch

United Launch Alliance (ULA) shipped the ICPS from its facility in Decatur, Alabama, to Florida aboard the Delta Mariner barge earlier this year. After arrival, the stage was transported to the ULA Horizontal Integration Facility near Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Once removed from its shipping container, the ICPS underwent initial inspections before being transported to the Delta Operations Center for further checkouts. It then was packed inside a canister and transferred to the Space Station Processing Facility, where it will be processed for EM-1.

As its name implies, the ICPS – a modified version of the Delta cryogenic second stage – is a temporary product. Eventually, a more powerful stage capable of launching Orion beyond lunar orbit will replace ICPS: the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS).

Like the EUS, the ICPS employs liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. While ICPS carries a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine, derived from the original RL10, the EUS will be boosted by four RL10C-3 engines.

Mike Bolger, the GSDO Program manager at KSC, noted that ICPS is the first piece of hardware being turned over to GSDO for EM-1 processing. “It’s great to be standing in front of flight hardware. Over the next year, the components of the most powerful rocket in the world will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.”

There have been some concerns about other parts of SLS/Orion delaying EM-1 until mid-2020. The ICPS progress keeps NASA on track to meet its manage-to-launch date of December 2019.



Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

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