NASA has finished assembling its huge $18.6 billion Space Launch System (SLS) ‘megarocket’ that will fly astronauts back to the moon over the coming decade. The Space Launch System will launch for the first time in November this year with the Artemis-1 mission. Engineers working at Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre finished lowering the 212ft tall core stage between two smaller booster rockers on Friday. This is the first time the core stage and boosters of the ‘megarocket’ have been stacked together in their launch configuration since the project was announced in 2011.
The massive core stage houses propellant tanks and four engines to provide the thrust necessary to get the heavy payload of the ground. Together with the two solid rocket boosters, the SLS rocket will provide more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust to launch the first of NASA’s next-generation Artemis Moon missions. Artemis-1 is the name given to the first test flight of the next generation Orion crew capsule. The mobile launcher serves as a platform not just for stacking but as a key supplier of power, communications, coolants, and propellant for the rocket and spacecraft.
The core stage has undergone extensive testing. In March the core stage engines were fired for eight minutes – the time it takes for SLS to get from the ground up into space. With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the Moon and establish sustainable exploration in preparation for missions to Mars.