March 23rd, 2023
NASA has finished fully integrating its second Space Launch System core stage, which will be used to send the Artemis 2 mission with four astronauts to the Moon late next year.
There are five major pieces of the SLS core stage — the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, intertank, liquid hydrogen tank and engine section. The latter was finally bolted together on March 17, 2023, at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
NASA said the engine section is the most complex part of the core stage as it is a “crucial attachment point for the RS-25 engines and two solid rocket boosters that produce a combined 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.”
The four RS-25 engines that will be used for this vehicle are currently being unboxed and installed.
NASA hopes to ship the 212-foot (65-meter) core stage — the largest part of the SLS rocket stack — to Kennedy Space Center in Florida as early as summer 2023 where it will be prepared for stacking sometime in the first part of 2024.
Artemis 2 is the crewed follow up to the highly successful uncrewed Artemis 1 Moon mission in late 2022. The 10-day flight will involve sending an Orion spacecraft and a crew of four on a free-return trajectory around the Moon, currently scheduled for no earlier than November 2024.
NASA expects to announce the Artemis 2 crew on April 3, 2023. It’ll consist of three astronauts from the U.S. space agency and one from the Canadian Space Agency.
Together, they’ll be the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. The mission will test the Orion spacecraft’s systems and pave the way for a crewed lunar landing during the Artemis 3 mission, likely no earlier than 2026.
The engines for the Artemis 2 SLS core stage are unboxed at the Michoud Assembly Facility. Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.