NASA Maiden Artemis 1 Moon Rocket Stacked in VAB at KSC Targets February 2022 Launch: Photos

NASA Artemis 1 Moon Rocket Stacked in VAB at KSC Targets February 2022 Launch
NASA completed stacking Oct. 21, 2021, of the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I uncrewed mission around the Moon targeting launch February 2022. The stacking operations were conducted inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL –  Marking a major milestone towards returning American astronauts to the Moon this decade NASA finally completed stacking of the agency’s maiden Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion spacecraft on Oct. 21, for the Artemis I uncrewed mission around the Moon and is targeting launch February 2022 from Florida’s Spaceport – if all goes well with numerous upcoming preparatory operations as it enters the final phase of testing before launch.

Technicians have been methodically conducting the SLS stacking and integration operations with Orion inside the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC)  in Florida which were completed on Oct. 21, 2021.

NASA officials announced completion of SLS stacking activities and confirmed that Feb. 12, 2022 is the earliest that Artemis 1 can lift off, at a media briefing held on Oct. 22.

The integrated SLS Orion stack for Artemis 1 stands a mammoth 322 feet tall (98 meters) inside the VAB High Bay 3 at NASA Kennedy.

“With stacking and integration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft complete, we’re getting closer and closer to embarking on a new era of human deep space exploration,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“Thanks to the team’s hard work designing, manufacturing, testing, and now completing assembly of NASA’s new rocket and spacecraft, we’re in the home stretch of preparations for the first launch on the Artemis I mission, paving the way to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond for many years to come.”

 

“NASA’s Orion spacecraft is secured atop the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket, and the integrated system is entering the final phase of preparations for an upcoming uncrewed flight test around the Moon,” NASA officials stated.

“With stacking complete, a series of integrated tests now sit between the mega-Moon rocket and targeted liftoff for deep space in February 2022.”

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is secured atop the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket on Oct. 21, 2021, for the Artemis I uncrewed mission around the Moon targeting launch February 2022. The stacking operations were conducted inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

The Artemis I mission will pave the way for a future flight test on the Artemis 2 mission in later 2023 with crew of four astronauts from the NASA and Canada, the next human lunar landing on the Artemis 3 mission planned for no earlier than  late 2024 – that NASA hopes to establish starting a regular cadence of more complex missions with astronauts on and around the Moon under Artemis.

On the Artemis 3 mission NASA plans to land the first woman and very likely the first person of color on the surface of the Moon.

“It’s hard to put into words what this milestone means, not only to us here at Exploration Ground Systems, but to all the incredibly talented people who have worked so hard to help us get to this point,” said Mike Bolger, Exploration Ground Systems program manager.

“Our team has demonstrated tremendous dedication preparing for the launch of Artemis I. While there is still work to be done to get to launch, with continued integrated tests and Wet Dress Rehearsal, seeing the fully stacked SLS is certainly a reward for all of us.”

Watch this cool NASA time lapse of the Orion stacking on SLS:

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.

Engineers and technicians with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Jacobs attached the Orion spacecraft to one of the five overhead cranes inside the VAB and began lifting it a little after midnight EDT Oct. 20.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is secured atop the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket on Oct. 21, 2021, for the Artemis I uncrewed mission around the Moon targeting launch February 2022. The stacking operations were conducted inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

Next the team  slowly lowered it onto the fully stacked SLS rocket and connected it to the waiting Orion Stage Adapter.

This required the EGS team to align the spacecraft perfectly with the adapter before gently attaching the two together.

Overall the Orion stacking operation took several hours to make sure Orion was securely in place.

Here are more cool NASA photos of the final Orion SLS stacking operations:

And more amazing NASA video footage of Orion stacking:

 

NASA’s Orion spacecraft was moved on Oct. 18 to the VAB for stacking on top of SLS,

NASA’s Orion spacecraft capsule on the move as it exits the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Oct. 18, 2021 for move to Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and stacking on top of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for launch on the Artemis 1 mission to the Moon and back from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: NASA

Orion’s move started Monday evening, Oct. 18 exiting the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) around 6 p.m. EDT standing upright and gloriously exposed atop a mobile transporter – sporting the energetic logo ‘We Are Going’ – and was completed overnight Tuesday early morning, Oct. 19 with arrival at the VAB around 5 a.m. EDT.

This first SLS core stage 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.

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 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 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.

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 graphic illustrates the Artemis 1 mission:

Artemis I will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond. During this flight, the uncrewed Orion spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon, farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown, over the course of about a three-week mission. Credit: NASA

 

This NASA graphic illustrates the stacking process.

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

Lockheed Martin is the spacecraft’s prime contractor, and ESA (European Space Agency) oversees the development of Orion’s service module.

The Artemis 1 Orion crew capsule was manufactured inside NASA’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at KSC.

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

Media including Ken Kremer and Jean Wright for Space UpClose were invited for an up close visit to see and photograph Orion after assembly of the NASA Crew Module & ESA Service Module was completed inside the O & C earlier this year in January 2021.

 

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

The next steps are NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems teams will conduct integrated tests of Orion and SLS along with the ground equipment, prior to rolling the rocket and spacecraft to the launch pad for a final test, known as the wet dress rehearsal. This final test will run the rocket and launch team through operations to load propellant into the fuel tanks and conduct a full launch countdown.

Following a successful rehearsal, NASA will roll the stack back into the VAB for final checks and set a target date for launch – tentatively Feb 12 at this point.

 

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Artemis, SLS, Orion and NASA missions, Lucy Asteroid mission, Blue Origin and Space Tourism, SpaceX Cargo and Crew Dragons, 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 & 3, ISS, 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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SLS Block 1 configuration illustration. Credit: NASA
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

 

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

 

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

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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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