NASA’s 1st SLS Core Stage for Artemis 1 Moon Mission Rolls off Barge into VAB at Kennedy Space Center: Photos

NASA’s 1st SLS Core Stage for Artemis 1 Moon Mission Rolls off Barge into VAB at Kennedy Space Center: Photos
Artemis I Core Stage Offload to VAB. The massive, maiden 212-foot long Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Teams with Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and lead contractor Jacobs next transferred the rocket stage to the center’s Vehicle Assembly Building to prepare it for integration with the completed stack of solid rocket boosters atop the mobile launcher ahead of the Artemis I launch on an uncrewed mission to the Moon NET late 2021 carrying NASA’s human rated Orion deep space capsule as soon as late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –  The first ever built and truly mammoth core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) mega rocket arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida by barge late Tuesday afternoon April, 27, and was then rolled off the barge and into the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) Thursday morning April 29 where it will soon begin extensive stacking and preparatory operations for launch on the history making Artemis 1 mission to deliver NASA’s Orion deep space human rated capsule to the Moon.

Liftoff of Artemis 1 is slated for no earlier than (NET) late 2021 from Launch Complex 39B at NASA KSC on the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to test the SLS heavy lift mega rocket and Orion crew capsule as an integrated system prior to crewed flights to the Moon. 

Artemis I Core Stage Offload to VAB. 1st 212-foot long Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and sailing past Countdown Clock and US Flag in turn basin wharf for transport to VAB. Integration with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher upcoming. Destined for the Artemis 1 launch to the Moon carrying NASA’s human rated Orion deep space capsule NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

“We are thrilled to welcome the Core Stage to Florida for our team to begin the integration of the SLS launch vehicle” said Mike Bolger, NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We have been working diligently towards this moment and are honored to contribute to our nation’s space exploration goals with the launch of Artemis I.”

1st 212-foot long Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for transport to VAB. Integration with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher upcoming inside VAB. Destined for the Artemis 1 launch to the Moon carrying NASA’s human rated Orion deep space capsule NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

SLS is the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen generating some 8.8 million pounds of liftoff thrust at ignition – about 15% more powerful than NASA’s legendary Saturn V that hurled the first humans to land on the Moon back in 1969 on the Apollo 11 moon landing mission.

The 21-story tall core stage covered in orange foam insulation also counts as the largest and most powerful rocket stage NASA has ever built.

1st 212-foot long Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for transport to VAB. Integration with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher upcoming inside VAB. Destined for the Artemis 1 launch to the Moon carrying NASA’s human rated Orion deep space capsule NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The SLS core stage is the final piece of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to arrive at KSC – and will propel NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon on a launch still targeted by NASA for late 2021 but that could slip into early 2022 considering the huge amount of processing and preparation work still ahead.

1st 212-foot long Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for transport to VAB. Integration with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher upcoming inside VAB. Destined for the Artemis 1 launch to the Moon carrying NASA’s human rated Orion deep space capsule NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The decade in the making Boeing built Artemis 1 core stage safely arrived by barge at KSC in Florida after a 900-mile journey from the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The maiden 212-foot-tall (64.6-meter) SLS core stage arrived aboard the specially designed and elongated 310-foot-long (94.4 meters) Pegasus barge and was towed into the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf on a sunny Tuesday afternoon berthing adjacent to the iconic VAB and passing by the proudly fluttering US Flag and world famous Countdown Clock.

UpClose look at 4 Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-25 engines at base of 1st SLS core stage after offloading from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Finally just past dawn teams of technicians with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and lead contractor Jacobs slowly and methodically began the off load operation of the core stage from Pegasus at about 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) Thursday, April 29.

The core stage resting on a transport cradle was offloaded from Pegasus using a self-propelled module transporter to move it into the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building.

 

The start of the offloading operation was delayed over 2 hours due to a fuse issue with the self-propelled transporter.

 

 

Enjoy our photos of the core stage off loading and barge arrival at Port Canaveral and KSC Turn Basin wharf from the Space UpClose team of Ken Kremer and Jean Wright. Check back as the gallery grows.

1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The core stage finally was transported inside to the VAB transfer aisle late afternoon Thursday, April 29.

1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The next steps are to carefully raise the core stage vertical by cranes in about one month by late May and hoist it into High Bay 4 for stacking and attachment to the twin solid rocket boosters and the Orion capsule – those operations will take up most of the summer.

NASA Orion Artemis 1 crew capsule is assembly complete in Jan. 2021 during visit to NASA Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Both of the 177-foot-tall (54-meter) Northrop Grumman built solid rocket boosters (SRBs) are already stacked on the rocket’s mobile launch platform in High Bay 4 in the VAB and are awaiting the core stage.

 

The high bay crane will hoist and lower the core stage to place it in between the already stacked SRBs

 

See the NASA graphic below explain the SLS/Orion integration and stacking operation in the VAB in detail.

Infographic artwork explains stacking of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on its path to the pad for Artemis I. NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Jacobs teams will stack the different elements of the SLS rocket on top of the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. The VAB and mobile launcher have been specially outfitted to accommodate SLS and Orion. Once fully assembled, the upgraded crawler-transporter will carry the skyscraper-sized duo to the launch pad for NASA’s next-generation Moon missions. Credit: NASA

 

NASA’s unique Pegasus barge was previously used to transport the External Tanks (ET) for NASA’s three-decade long space shuttle program until the orbiters retirement in 2011.

“Teams from Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs will lead the efforts to integrate the massive rocket stage with the Orion spacecraft and the additional flight hardware ahead of the Artemis I launch. Waiting to greet the core stage inside the facility are the twin solid rocket boosters that have been fully stacked atop the mobile launcher and the launch vehicle stage adapter housed inside High Bay 4,” said NASA officials.

 

SLS serves as the backbone of the Artemis program and the nation’s future deep space exploration missions.

The SLS core stage measures 212 feet tall and 27.6 feet in diameter.

Overall SLS stands 322 feet (98 meters) tall and weighs 5.75 million pounds

It is equipped with four Aerojet-Rocketdyne built RS-25 engines fueled by over 730,000 gallons of cryogenic super cold LOX (liquid oxygen) and LH2 (liquid hydrogen) propellants to generate some 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust to help power the SLS rocket at launch.

UpClose look at 4 Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-25 engines at base of 1st SLS core stage after offloading from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

SLS was built by prime contractor Boeing at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.”

The RS-25 engines are attached to the base of the core stage and are recycled from the Space Shuttle where they were reused and reflown numerous times.

 

Previously known as the Space Shuttle Main Engine, or SSME, they have been refurbished and upgraded in numerous ways including with a new ‘brain controller’ and can fire at 109% thrust.

1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

This 1st SLS core stage was transported to KSC following the successful completion of the critical and long awaited Green run hot test fire of the four Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-25 engines mounted on the base of the stage.

The core stage hot fire was the culmination of the Green Run series of tests of its design and systems on the B-2 test stand in Mississippi.

NASA successfully and finally completed the full duration 8 minute long hot test fire of the core stage engines on the second try for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) human rated mega Moon rocket, March 18, on the test stand in Mississippi thus enabling its shipment to KSC.

After SLS/Orion stacking and integration are complete NASA hopes to roll out and transport the skyscraper-sized vehicle duo on the mobile launcher carried by the upgraded crawler-transporter for the very first time to Launch Complex-39B in the August to fall time frame for a wet dress rehearsal by the launch team.

 

Thereafter the fully assembled stack will roll back to the VAB for refurbishment.

Thereafter NASA officials will be able to forecast and determine a realistic launch date.

 

The arrival at KSC is paving the path for launch of the uncrewed Artemis-1 moon mission late this year or early next year followed by future Artemis missions with astronauts to orbit and land on the surface.

 

Artemis I will be the first integrated test of SLS and Orion and will pave the way for landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Ken is onsite for the Pegasus arrival and offloading activities at KSC

Ken Kremer, scientist, founder and editor of Space UpClose at KSC for 1st SLS core stage arrival on April 29, 2021

Watch for continuing detailed reports upcoming.

Watch my live SpaceX Crew-2 post launch interview on ‘The Donlan Report’ on News Nation Cable News about Artemis and  the significance of the NASA SpaceX Crew 2 launch to ISS launch, Commercial  Space, Mars rover/helicopter, the future of space travel and Elon Musk’s plan to build a city on Mars.

 

Watch my live interview on ‘Stay Curious’ show about NASA SpaceX Crew 2 mission and NASA Ingenuity Helicopter 1st flight – on April 29 at the American Space Museum Titusville, FL

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Artemis and NASA missions, SLS, Orion, SpaceX, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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

Please consider supporting Ken’s work by purchasing his photos and/or donating at Patreon:

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Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com
1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

 

1st NASA SLS core stage was offloaded from the Pegasus Barge on April 29, 2021, after arriving at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and transported to VAB for integration and stacking with solid rocket boosters atop mobile launcher. For Artemis 1 launch to the Moon NET late 2021. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

 

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

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Ken Kremer

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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