Parts falling into place for NASA's next moon rocket for Artemis II

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

The reigning title holder for world’s most powerful rocket saw action on both its center core and its two solid rocket boosters this month, with pieces for the Artemis II launch coming together as NASA aims to send humans on a trip around the moon next year.

Arriving by train to Florida on Monday were all 10 segments for the two side boosters of the Space Launch System rocket that will launch the Orion spacecraft with four humans on board from Kennedy Space Center as early as November 2024. The core stage of that booster remains in New Orleans, but teams last week installed the last of four converted space shuttle engines to the base of the stage.

The core stage’s primary contractor Boeing still has more work to do before it can be shipped by barge from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility to KSC, currently on track for a November arrival, but the tail end finally got the last of its four R2-25 engines stuck in place. Aerojet Rocketdyne, which was recently acquired by Melbourne-based L3Harris, manufactured all four engines that were originally designed for the Space Shuttle Program, but have since been converted for use on the SLS.

Two of the engines have been to space for a combined 20 missions already, including both Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last flight on STS-134 and Space Shuttle Atlantis’ last flight and final mission of the shuttle program, STS-135, in 2011. The other two engines are making their first trip to space, but the parts were mostly manufactured for the shuttles. All four have at least one component that flew on Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-1 in 1981.

RS-25s have been to space a combined 409 times, and former shuttle program engines will be used through Artemis IV, with brand new RS-25s used for Artemis V and beyond.

The next task is to integrate the engines with propulsion and electrical systems.


The core stage is the biggest part of the SLS rocket, standing at 212 feet with tanks that hold 733,000 gallons of cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It’s the propellant that shoots through the four RS-25s to provide 2 million of the SLS’s 8.8 million pounds of thrust on liftoff. The engines burn through the propellant for more than eight minutes during launch.

Attached to the core are the two solid rocket boosters, manufactured by Northrop Grumman in Utah. They had been awaiting the call from NASA to make the 2,400-mile trip to Florida, finally making the trek this week. They were loaded onto specialized transporters to endure each segment’s heavy load.

Each booster is made up of five segments, which actually give the rocket more than 75% of its power on liftoff with 3.3 million pounds of thrust each. The segments combined with the nose and nozzle weigh more than 1.6 million pounds with each filled with the solid polybutadiene acrylonitrile fuel. At launch, boosters burn through the propellant at a rate of six tons per second for just over two minutes before falling away from the core stage.

They are now in the hands of NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program based at KSC where they will be prepped at the spaceport’s Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility.


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