The giant rockets that will take NASA astronauts to the Moon a few years from now are starting to appear together.
In a brief status update published Tuesday (January 11), NASA officials wrote that the agency and its manufacturing partners have made “significant progress” in assembling a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for Artemis 2, a manned crew orbiting the Moon. The mission is scheduled to take off in 2024. The testing and fabrication of SLS parts is also underway for the Artemis 3 lunar landing mission, which is now scheduled no later than 2025, and its successor, Artemis 4.
“The SLS team is not only building one rocket, but manufacturing several rockets for future exploration missions and SLS flights after the initial Artemis launch,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, in the update. .
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“The Artemis 1 mission is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will expand our presence on the Moon,” Honeycutt added. “The unprecedented power and capabilities of the SLS rocket will send farther and faster missions throughout the solar system.”
In July, the Artemis 2 SLS temporary cryogenic thrust stage (ICPS) was the first to reach Florida, near the launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). NASA officials said ICPS is now making final preparations at the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Boeing facilities for delivery to KSC. ICPS for the Artemis 3 SLS is under construction at the ULA plant in Decatur, Alabama. The stage will be used to propel the Orion crew capsule toward the moon.
Meanwhile, NASA officials said the boosters and RS-25 engines for both the Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 rockets are “in the final assembly stages.” Artemis 2 engines are ready for integration with the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, while Artemis 3 engines are prepared at the Aeroject Rocketdyne facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for the RS-25.) Manufacturing of the RS-25 on missions beyond Artemis 4 is ongoing.
Also, technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace have completed casting the Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 booster motor segments in Utah and begun work on the Artemis 4 segments, NASA officials said.
In the update, NASA also noted progress on items such as the cone-shaped launch vehicle stage adapters for Artemis 2 and 3, along with panel fabrication for the global stage adapter test article for future missions.
Artemis is NASA’s crewed lunar exploration program, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the end of 2020.
The space agency currently aims to land astronauts on the Moon no later than 2025, on the Artemis 3 mission. That mission was originally targeted in 2024 under the administration of President Donald Trump. But it has been delayed for a number of reasons, from funding issues to technical concerns about items like spacesuits to a now-dissolved federal lawsuit related to the Artemis Human Landing System contract, which was awarded to SpaceX in April 2021.
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