The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has completed assembly of the main structural components for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
The SLS, which will be the largest rocket from NASA since the Apollo-era Saturn V, will be used to transport an unmanned Orion craft to the Moon. The rocket is expected to launch in 2021. The launch will pave way for manned missions to the moon, with a landing scheduled in 2024.
The last of five sections that make up the core of the SLS were connected by engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, Louisiana. The complicated engine section was last piece of the SLS’ 64-meter-tall core stage, which will serve as the attachment point for the four powerful RS-25 engines.
These engines are capable of producing two million pounds of thrust. Sacramento, California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne built the RS-25 engines and are the same ones used to power the now-retired space shuttle orbiter.
ulie Bassler, Nasa’s SLS stages manager, said “Now, to complete the stage, Nasa will add the four RS-25 engines and complete the final integrated avionics (electronics) and propulsion functional tests. This is an exciting time as we finish the first-time production of the complex core stage that will provide the power to send the Artemis 1 mission to the Moon.”
This completion represents a significant milestone for the SLS rocket after it was announced in 2010. The project has faced delays and cost overruns in the past. The four RS-25 engines are scheduled for attachment over the autumn.
After it launches the SLS, NASA is looking to send the first woman and the next man to the lunar South Pole by 2024. But before that, the first crewed mission in 2022 following the Artemis 1 would send astronauts on a loop around the Moon without landing.
If successful, The Artemis 3 in 2024 will be the first lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.