Crews at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have moved the forward join, or forward part, of the massive core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System in preparation for its final assembly and integration to the liquid hydrogen tank.
In a change from the previous core stage assembly plan, technicians and engineers will mate the forward join with the liquid hydrogen tank horizontally rather than vertically. This revised approach of mating the two critical components allows technicians and engineers to finalize the outfitting and testing of the engine section concurrently. Combined with the use of new production tools, the new assembly process keeps core stage production on target for completion this year.
The forward join consists of three parts: the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank and intertank. It makes up 66 feet of the 212-foot-tall core stage. The core stage includes the liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank that together hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to power the stage’s four RS-25 engines needed to launch SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit forward to the Moon.
NASA is charged to get American astronauts to the Moon by 2024. SLS and Orion are NASA’S backbone for deep space exploration including missions to the Gateway in lunar orbit. The agency will launch SLS and Orion from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on their first integrated test flight around the Moon in 2020.