NASA’s 1st SLS Core Stage Lifted Vertical and Stacked Between Twin Boosters in VAB at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s 1st SLS Core Stage Lifted Vertical and Stacked Beside Boosters in VAB at Kennedy Space Center
NASA’s first 212 foot tall core stage for the Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket was raised vertical inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and stacked beside the two twin 177 foot tall solid rocket boosters atop the Mobile Launch Platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the Artemis 1 mission. Credit: NASA

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The first ever built and truly mammoth 212 foot tall core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) mega rocket was at last raised vertical inside the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) this past weekend and then raised high and stacked in between the two twin 177 foot tall solid rocket boosters already stacked atop the Mobile Launch Platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida destined for launching the Artemis 1 mission to the Moon as soon as late 2021.

The massive core stage is the largest booster ever built and weighs over 188,000 pounds unfueled and now stands atop the launch platform in High Bay 3 inside the VAB for the first time ever- marking a major milestone on the path to first launch on Artemis 1.

NASA released a new photo of the 1st SLS core stage and twin booster stack for Artemis 1 mission on Monday, June 14.

“Up Close & Personal: The @NASA_SLS  #Artemis I core stage on the mobile launcher in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at @NASAKennedy.  Weighing more than 188,000 lbs without fuel and standing 212 feet, the core stage is the largest part of the Space Launch System rocket,” NASA confirmed.

Engineers and technicians carried out the core stage hoisting and stacking late last week and continued into  the weekend.

“Teams successfully lowered the @NASA_SLS  core stage down onto the mobile launcher in between the already assembled twin solid rocket boosters. Weighing more than 188,000 pounds without fuel and standing 212 feet, the core stage is the largest element of the SLS rocket,” NASA confirmed via tweet.

Liftoff of the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission 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 starting with Artemis 2.

 

NASA’s first 212 foot tall core stage for the Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket was raised vertical inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and stacked beside the two twin 177 foot tall solid rocket boosters atop the Mobile Launch Platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the Artemis 1 mission. Credit: NASA

This first SLS core stage had arrived on NASA’s Pegasus barge April 27 and was then rolled off the barge and into VAB  two days later on April 29 for the 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.

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

The overall stacking process began on June 11 when technicians with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems team lifted the 21 story core stage by first hoisting it horizontal off the transporter inside the VAB transfer aisle and then rotated it vertical.

“Things are looking up around here! Teams have rotated the @NASA_SLS  core stage – the largest part of the rocket – into a vertical position. Soon, they will lift up the core stage and lower it down into High Bay 3 to join the twin solid rocket boosters on the mobile launcher,” NASA confirmed via tweet on June 11. 

 

Watch this cool timelapse video showing the lifting and core stage going vertical in the VAB transfer aisle in preparation for later stacking vertical in High Bay 3 in between the twin solid rocket boosters

“Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and @JacobsConnects  lifted the @NASA_SLS  rocket core stage for the  @NASAArtemis  I mission in the Vehicle Assembly Building at @NASAKennedy . Check out this timelapse from operations,” NASA tweeted. 

 

NASA’s first core stage for the Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket was hoisted and rotated off the transporter and then raised vertical inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and stacked beside the two twin 177 foot tall solid rocket boosters atop the Mobile Launch Platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the Artemis 1 mission. Credit: NASA

This post explains how the SLS rocket is stacked:

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.

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.

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

 

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 afternoon April 27 berthing adjacent to the iconic VAB and passing by the proudly fluttering US Flag and world famous Countdown Clock.

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

Both of the 177-foot-tall (54-meter) Northrop Grumman built solid rocket boosters (SRBs) were already stacked on the rocket’s mobile launch platform in High Bay 3 in the VAB and are awaiting the core stage.

The high bay crane was used to 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

Upcoming later this summer and fall are attachment and mating of the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVAS),  the interim cryogenic propulsion upper stage from ULA and the Lockheed Martin built Orion deep space capsule and numerous test and checkout operations to confirm all is well.

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

But before the real Artemis 1 Orion is stacked engineers will stack a mass simulator in its place and conduct systems and stacking shaking tests to confirm all is operating as expected

Previously KSC technicians has used a core stage mass simulator to practice the SLS lifting and stacking operations

 

 

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.

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

 

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

 

 

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Artemis and NASA missions, SLS, Orion, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, SpaceX, ULA, 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, 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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NASA’s first core stage for the Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket was hoisted and rotated off the transporter and then raised vertical inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and stacked beside the two twin 177 foot tall solid rocket boosters atop the Mobile Launch Platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the Artemis 1 mission. Credit: NASA

 

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

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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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