Engineers have hoisted the core stage of NASA's mega-rocket, the Space Launch System, vertical ready to bolt on its boosters and roll the stack to the launchpad later this year.
The milestone has been a while coming in a programme beset by delays and difficulty, both engineering and financial.
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. pic.twitter.com/Vnv6GnJ7VX— NASA's Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) June 11, 2021
The core stage arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in April following the completion of the Green Run test campaign at NASA's Stennis facility. After some stops and starts, a full duration test firing was accomplished in Stennis's B-2 test stand.
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The overhead cranes in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) rotated the core stage from horizontal to vertical on 11 June. The stage was then lowered onto the mobile launcher, between Artemis I's solid rocket boosters in High Bay 3 of the VAB.
The @NASA_SLS #Artemis I core stage has been lowered down onto the mobile launcher in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at @NASAKennedy. Teams are continuing work to secure the core stage to the solid rocket boosters for @nasaartemis I. pic.twitter.com/cINDCwDP7V— NASA's Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) June 12, 2021
The sight of actual flight hardware stacked in the VAB doubtless brought on more than a tinge of nostalgia for folk who miss the days of the Space Shuttle and its external tank being lifted and rotated in a similar way.
Once the core stage has been secured, further components will be stacked. These include the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) and the Orion Stage Adapter. More testing will follow before the Orion spacecraft itself (and European Service Module) can be lowered onto the completed rocket.
NASA continues to work toward a launch for the monster rocket in November, which will send the uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a three-week mission around the Moon. Should all go well, a crewed mission will follow nearly two years later, in the latter part of 2023.
And if the space agency needs any further help in pointing its rockets, we'd have to recommend checking out xkcd.com and the Up Goer Five. ®