Thursday, April 29, 2021

SLS Core Stage Now In the VAB on the Kennedy Space Center

The SLS core stage was shipped (literally, by barge) from the Stennis Space Center to the Kennedy Space Center here in Florida this week.  The barge arrived in Florida on the 27th, traveling to the turning basin in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Transfer to inside the VAB was accomplished this afternoon.  At this point, it's now being referred to as the core of Artemis 1: the first, unmanned mission the SLS will fly.   

Teams from the center’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs will perform checkouts ahead of integrating the massive rocket stage with the twin solid rocket boosters, Orion spacecraft, and additional flight hardware ahead of the Artemis I launch.

Artemis I will be the first integrated test of SLS and Orion and will pave the way for landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. It will be a proving ground for deep space exploration, leading the agency’s efforts under the Artemis program for a sustainable presence on the Moon and preparing for human missions to Mars.
As you would imagine, it's not exactly a trivial exercise to handle something massively heavy yet fragile to loads it wasn't designed for, but that's coming very soon as they need to transfer the core stage to a vertical position for the beginning of the integration process.

The twin solid rocket boosters are completely stacked; that was completed in early March.  Despite their similar appearance to the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, they're reported to be the largest and most powerful solid rockets ever made.  Each booster produces 3.6 million pounds of thrust.  An important detail to point out is that, like the Shuttle, those SRBs will support the entire weight of the core stage and everything that's mounted to it.

John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager, said, “with the delivery of the SLS core stage for Artemis I, we have all the parts of the rocket at Kennedy for the first Artemis mission.”  NASA is still aiming for a launch before the end of the year, although they'll openly say that's “challenging.”  The original date published was this coming November, but that was before the test window at Stennis ballooned up to nine months.  To have the schedule hammered that badly and not move the launch date out by more than a month would be truly remarkable.  FWIW, I think this goes beyond challenging all the way to improbable.  I wish them luck but I'd be really surprised if this isn't delayed until well into '22.  I think a three month delay into late February/early March would still be remarkably good.

I can't let this column go without noting that part of the quote above made my skin crawl and filled me with dread.  “Artemis I will .... pave the way for landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.”  So the goal of the Artemis program is to send identity politics into the universe?  If there's anything about humanity that deserves to die off on earth and not spread it's identity politics.  It was bad enough when they said Artemis was to land the first woman and the next man on the moon, but that's apparently too mild today. 

I think I've been clear that I think SLS has been a horrendously bad waste of money.  The decision to kill a program after so much has been spent on it is a tough one for a politician to make.  They're subject to the sunk cost fallacy over things like this.  They have to admit they threw away billions on something like SLS and never got anything for it.  


  1. SiG - that same phrase jumped out at me. I HATE stuff like this in an incredibly complex and dangerous engineering project. What's the overriding goal of this project, to safely and successfully return to the moon or to be able to put another checkbox in the scoresheet for identity politics? Frankly, that kind of statement in a government run effort gives me no confidence of success.

  2. I saw that exact same language in a newspaper article a couple weeks ago about SpaceX getting the contract to send Starship to the moon. Woman and POC is why we're going back. They won't rest until left-handed midget lesbians are included.

  3. Ditto on the language. On everything else, please remember that NASA is a jobs program, and they've reached the point where they fill in holes that others are paid to dig. I suppose it's better than just mailing free money to taxpayers.

  4. NASA is a jobs program [...] I suppose it's better than just mailing free money to taxpayers.

    No, it's far worse. NASA's purposes are gun control (no private ICBMS), iron curtain (no escaping to the frontier only 100 miles away), and destroy wealth that would otherwise be spent on practical space.

    The shuttle showed NASA has already lowered engineering standards for rockets like colleges did for minorities. NASA is on the way to conquer the world, just like the Soviet Union did. Plan now for what items you want to salvage after the hyperinflation collapse. For instance, I think the VAB would make a nice hackerspace, and there's plenty of alligators around to play battlebot with.

  5. SLS needs to be cancelled. NASA should concentrate on building spacecraft that ride on commercial rockets. And this is from someone living in the same town as MSFC....