1st RS-25 Engine Attached to NASA Artemis 1 SLS Core Stage

1st RS-25 Engine Attached to NASA Artemis 1 SLS Core Stage

Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have structurally mated the first of four RS-25 engines to the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will help power the first Artemis mission to the Moon. Credit: NASA/Jude Guidry

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL/MICHOUD ASSEMBLY FACILITY, LA – The first of four RS-25 engines that will ultimately help power the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Moon on the first Artemis mission has been mated to the mammoth rockets core stage by engineers and technicians at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

NASA announced the joining of the first RS-25 engine onto the bottom engine section of the 212-foot-long SLS core stage on Oct. 22.

The engine attachment work was led by lead engine contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne in coordination with NASA and SLS lead contractor Boeing.

UpClose view of an RS-25 engine destined for Artemis 1, the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft after delivery to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The Aerojet Rocketdyne engine seen on June 28 will be installed into the SLS engine section Fall 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Major structural assembly of this first SLS core stage itself was only just completed a month ago on Sept. 19 by Boeing workers at Michoud after years of effort and much delay after they attached the last of five sections of the 212-foot-tall core stage – namely the bottom engine section which is one of the most complicated pieces of hardware for the SLS rocket and has been problematic to design and build and caused much of the delay.

The Boeing team bolted the engine section to the stage’s liquid hydrogen propellant tank at the base of the core stage.

NASA finished assembling the main structural components for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans fully integrated the last piece of the 212-foot-tall core stage by adding the engine section to the rest of the previously assembled structure. Boeing technicians bolted the engine section to the stage’s liquid hydrogen propellant tank. Credits: NASA/Steven Seipel

The next steps in the multistep engine installation process is to integrate the propulsion, electrical and avionics systems and complete the propulsion functional tests.

The entire installation process will be repeated for each of the three remaining RS-25 engines.

“The engines, located at the bottom of the core stage in a square pattern, are fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. During launch and flight, the four engines will fire nonstop for 8.5 minutes, emitting hot gases from each nozzle 13 times faster than the speed of sound,” say NASA officials.

Altogether the core stage will produce a combined 2 million pounds of thrust powered by the four RS-25 engines fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The RS-25 engine installation by the Aerojet-Rocketdyne team will take several months with completion of all four expected in December.

Crews delivered the last of four RS-25 engines for Artemis 1, the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft, from NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on June 27, 2019. The Aerojet Rocketdyne engines are lined up side-by-side on June 28 and will be installed into the SLS engine section Fall 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Thereafter the core stage will be shipped on the Pegasus barge to NASA Stennis Space Center to carry out the Green Run testing involving a full duration engine test to qualify the stage for launch on the Artemis 1 mission.

The green run test campaign will last about six months or so.

I visited Michoud in late June to see the core stage which at that time was four fifths complete and about 190 feet in length – as well as the four RS-25 engines Up Close that had just been delivered from Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Michoud on June 27, 2019. And they were a magnificent sight to behold!

See our Space UpClose photos herein from our Michoud media tour on June 28.

The core stage for NASA first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis 1 mission is being manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans as seen here on June 28, 2019. The RS-25 engines will be installed into the SLS engine section Fall 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The SLS core stage is the largest rocket stage the agency has built since the Saturn V that sent Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

The SLS-1 core stage will propel the Artemis I mission on the first integrated flight of the SLS rocket and NASA’s Orion deep space human spacecraft to the Moon – as soon as late 2020 but more likely in early 2021.

The overall goal is to build the rockets for NASA’s Artemis moon exploration program aimed at landing US astronauts on the Moon by 2024 at the lunar south pole – including the first woman and the next man.

“SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with Orion and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission.”

The core stage engine section “is the attachment point for the four RS-25 engines and the two solid rocket boosters that produce a combined 8.8 million pounds of thrust to send Artemis I to space.

“In addition, the engine section includes vital systems for mounting, controlling and delivering fuel from the stage’s two liquid propellant tanks to the rocket’s engines.”

The RS-25 engines are recycled from NASA’s space shuttles where clusters of three then called Space Shuttle Main Engines or SSMEs powered the orbiters and propelled 135 missions to space.

NASA now has 16 RS-25 engines in inventory. They have been modified and upgraded to power SLS. They were originally built and then refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Among the significant upgrades is the new engine controller which functions as the ‘brain’ to command the engines. See our photos.

The RS-25 engines have been ready for installation since Oct. 2017 when they completed qualification testing at Stennis.

But SLS is years behind schedule and billions over budget and Boeing has encountered numerous hardware manufacturing problems and difficulties resulting in substantial delays.

NASA originally hoped to launch SLS-1 by the end of 2017 – so the rocket is at least 3 years behind schedule. And I’ve been visiting and documenting progress over the years.

NASA will conduct a full duration ‘green run’ engine fire test of the completed core stage at Stennis to fully confirm its readiness for flight on Artemis 1. But that test will require six months of intense work by NASA and contractor teams.

Meanwhile the Orion Artemis 1 crew capsule is nearing completion nearby in the Operations and Checkout building I recently visited at KSC.

NASA’s Orion crew capsule for the first Artemis lunar mission has completed major assembly for the Artemis 1 mission is seen here in the manufacturing facility at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July 2019.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Watch for our upcoming Orion update.

Furthermore the recently arrived and massive 212 foot long, 228,000 pound core stage Pathfinder mock-up for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket was lifted to the vertical position inside the Vehicle Assembly Building’s (VAB) transfer aisle and then into High Bay 3 this past week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – by KSC and contractor teams carrying our critical work to practice offloading, moving, and stacking maneuvers required for assembly when the real SLS hardware for launch of the first Artemis moon mission arrives sometime around the middle of next year in 2020.

Fisheye view shows core stage pathfinder mock-up for NASA’s Space Launch System lifted to vertical position inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 17, 2019 by technicians using two cranes to practice critical moving, lifting and stacking maneuvers into High Bay 3 above and behind, in this view 196 ft above ground from level 16 catwalk. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Pegasus and Pathfinder sailed into and docked at the Turn Basin wharf by the world famous countdown clock at Kennedy nearly three weeks ago Sept. 27 after being towed by ocean-going and river-going tugboats for a nearly 1000-mile and week-long trek from NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to KSC.

NASA’s Pegasus barge transporting the Space Launch System core stage pathfinder arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 27, 2019 is towed by 2 tugboats and sails past the launch site at Launch Complex 39B. It will undergo a month of critical testing inside the VAB after shipping from NASA Stennis in Mississippi.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

More about the RS-25 engines:

The LOX/LH2 fueled RS-25 engines are a wonder of engineering from the Space Shuttle era and designed to be reusable from the start.

However for SLS they will be utilized for their final time and discarded at the conclusion of the launch sequence and ditched in the ocean since the core stage cannot land – unlike the shuttle orbiters.

The 4 RS-25 engines for the SLS Artemis 1 core stage have flown on a combined 21 space shuttle missions. They are engines E2045, E2056, E2058, and E2060.

“For SLS, they have been upgraded with new controllers, to perform under SLS environments and with nozzle insulation, for protection and prevention of metal overheating during launch and flight,” says NASA.

The engine controllers regulate the thrust levels of each engine and monitor health and performance. See them in our photos.

At launch the RS-25 engines will produce a combined 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Each engine offers 512,000 pounds of thrust – which is 109% of their operational thrust level and higher than the 104.5% thrust commonly used during the shuttle era.

Crews delivered the last of four RS-25 engines for Artemis 1, the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft, from NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on June 27, 2019. The Aerojet Rocketdyne engines are lined up side-by-side on June 28 and will be installed into the SLS engine section Summer 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

They will fire non-stop along with the two side mounted solid rocket boosters for approximately eight and one half minutes all the way to orbit.

The RS-25s measure 14 feet long and 8 feet in diameter and weigh 7775 pounds.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

 

UpClose view of the engine controller which serves as the brain that commands this RS-25 engine destined for Artemis 1, the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft after delivery to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The Aerojet Rocketdyne engine seen on June 28 will be installed into the SLS engine section Summer 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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