Boeing and NASA have been putting the agency’s first Space Launch System core stage through a monthslong series of “Green Run” tests at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The stage, designated for the uncrewed Artemis I mission, includes the largest rocket propellant tanks in existence, new computers and new flight software.
Before NASA suspended SLS operations at Stennis in response to the COVID-19 global emergency, the team had been approaching avionics power-on – a test of the computer, routers, processors, power, and other boxes and software that control the stage’s functions and communications.
At Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, likewise closed for the COVID-19 emergency, all elements of the core stage for the crewed Artemis II mission – its engine section, intertank, liquid oxygen tank, liquid hydrogen tank, and forward skirt structures – have been welded and built. Work on the third core stage also was underway when operations were suspended.
Many members of Boeing’s Stennis and Michoud teams are able to telework and continue to make progress on program documentation and design tasks, as well as process improvements for current and future activities.
Boeing has been adjusting its factory, production operations and supply chains for building core stages 2 through 12. Program leaders say the Artemis II core stage has been progressing faster than the first stage, thanks to lessons learned on the first build and the work Boeing, NASA and suppliers have done to improve processes and tools.
The ultimate test of the Artemis I core stage will be an eight-minute hot-fire of the stage’s four RS-25 engines, before the stage is refurbished and delivered to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, it will be integrated with its Interim Cryogenic Upper Stage and NASA’s Orion spacecraft for a mission around the moon and back.
Meanwhile, an Alabama-based Boeing team continues to design a bigger SLS variant with a more powerful Exploration Upper Stage, to carry super-heavy cargo on missions to the moon and deep space.