Getting to Mars: New upper stage will give SLS a boost

The Boeing-built Exploration Upper Stage will power NASA’s Space Launch System on its first trip to Mars.

March 30, 2023 in Space, Technology

Upper stage Photo Credit: Boeing

Fresh off NASA’s successful Artemis I mission in November, Boeing teams are working to provide core stages, upper stages and avionics for the Space Launch System (SLS) fleet of rockets for future missions.

The Boeing-built core stage powers each SLS launch. After lift-off and rocket separation, the SLS upper stage propels the Orion capsule out of Earth’s orbit.

For missions to the moon – Artemis I, II and III – the SLS rocket will fly in what’s called the Block 1 configuration featuring the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) as the upper stage. But, to get to Mars, SLS will require an evolved configuration – called Block 1B – with a more powerful upper stage to provide even more thrust and power.

What’s happening: The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) will replace the ICPS beginning with Artemis IV - which sets the foundation for future missions to Mars. The EUS will carry 40% more payload, enabling NASA to send more than 83,000 pounds (38 metric tons) of cargo on a single crewed mission.

Why it matters: “The EUS is a fully human-rated stage that enables the full use of the SLS rocket, supporting deep space exploration with meaningful payload capabilities,” said David Dutcher, program manager for SLS. “The EUS-enabled SLS rocket is foundational to deep space missions, including crewed lunar landings and scientific missions to the outer planets and their moons – taking us farther and faster than ever before.”

Go deeper on NASA’s Artemis missions:

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket – the nation’s next-generation, human-rated rocket – will enable NASA’s Artemis program and will carry people and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond! Boeing was selected by NASA to design, develop, test and produce the core stages, upper stages, and avionics suite for the SLS fleet of rockets. The first SLS rocket – featuring the Boeing-built Core Stage – successfully launched at 1:47 AM ET on November 16, 2022, as part of the Artemis I Mission. Production is currently underway for the Boeing-built core stages, upper stages (including Exploration Upper Stage) and avionics for future Artemis missions.