No Small Steps: “State of the SLS Rocket”

No Small Steps: “State of the SLS Rocket”


NASA’s new deep space exploration system has begun its journey right here on Earth, in all 50 states and several European countries. The pieces of the Space Launch System rocket that will send Orion farther than humans have ever been before during Exploration Mission One are nearing completion. All these parts will ultimately be brought together at Kennedy Space Center with Orion, which is currently being prepared for the mission. They’ll make one enormous rocket powerful enough to take astronauts and cargo to the Moon in a single launch. Or send robotic probes deep into the solar system to make amazing discoveries. When you’re designing, testing and building the rocket that will take astronauts back to the Moon, there really are a lot of small steps to get from here to there. But those small steps add up to some really big rocket pieces. So where are we? Near the top of the rocket, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage will give Orion a push toward the Moon. But its job isn’t done there. It will separate from Orion and 13 CubeSats – little spacecraft and science missions about the size of a shoebox – will be released into deep space from the Orion Stage Adapter. These little hitchhikers will each have their own mission. Some will be going to the Moon, one will study space weather and one’s going to rendezvous an asteroid! These parts of the rocket are finished and ready to go. There’s another adapter that Partially covers the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and connects the core stage to the upper part of the rocket: the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter. Workers are putting the finishing touches on this adapter. Next we come to the core stage, the backbone of the rocket. Engineers at Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans have built the five big components of the stage, including the enormous fuel tanks. Now they’re outfitting the insides with computers, electrical cables and everything else the core stage will need. And then they’ll join the pieces together. At the bottom of the core stage are the four RS-25 engines that use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen stored in the core stage tanks. Those engines are ready now. They‘ve got the latest computers installed and they’re go. Attached to the side of the core stage are two solid rocket boosters. They provide most of the thrust, or the big push, to get SLS to space. The central section of the boosters, where the propellant is stored, are the motors. They’re also complete. The top and bottom – or forward and aft, in rocketspeak — parts of the boosters are still being readied for flight; they’ll soon be done too. So, interim cryogenic propulsion stage: GO Orion Stage Adapter: GO Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter: READY Four RS-25 engines: They’re a GO Solid rocket motors: GO Forward and aft booster structures: They’ll soon be done too. The core stage major structures are GO and the interiors are moving toward final assembly. Next time, we’ll take a closer look at putting it all together, because all roads lead to Kennedy Space Center, where Exploration Mission One will all come together. Until then, I’m Stephen Granade, reminding you that there are No Small Steps to get to the Moon and Mars.

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