Barging In: Mighty SLS Core Stage for Artemis I Mission Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

After its journey from NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi aboard the Pegasus barge, the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) core stage arrives at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 27, 2021. The core stage is the final piece of Artemis hardware to arrive at the spaceport and will be offloaded and moved to Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building, where it will be prepared for integration atop the mobile launcher with the completed stack of solid rocket boosters ahead of the Artemis I launch. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test SLS and Orion as an integrated system prior to crewed flights to the Moon. Credit: NASA/Mike Downs

The final piece of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will send NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon has arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SLS Program delivered the core stage rocket to the center’s Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf after completing a successful series of Green Run tests at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The 212-foot-tall core stage, which is the largest rocket stage NASA has ever built, completed its voyage aboard the agency’s Pegasus barge on April 27. After a 900-mile journey, teams aboard the barge, which was modified to support SLS’s weight and length, safely piloted the specialized self-sustaining vessel to the spaceport.

Artemis I Core Stage Arrival at KSC

The Pegasus barge, carrying the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) core stage, arrives at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 27, 2021, after journeying from the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Credit: NASA/Jamie Peer

“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,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, “Our team looks forward to working with the Exploration Ground Systems team as all these huge pieces come together to build America’s Moon rocket”.

Now that the core stage is at Kennedy, the next step is to offload it from the barge to be prepared for stacking. It will be taken to the center’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building on the self-propelled module transporter, which is used to move large elements of hardware.

Pegasus SLS Arrives Kennedy Space Center

After its journey from NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi aboard the Pegasus barge, the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) core stage arrives at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 27, 2021. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Teams from Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs will lead the efforts to integrate the massive rocket stage with the Orion spacecraft and the additional flight hardware ahead of the Artemis I launch. Waiting to greet the core stage inside the facility are the twin solid rocket boosters that have been fully stacked atop the mobile launcher and the launch vehicle stage adapter housed inside High Bay 4.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Core Stage to Florida for our team to begin the integration of the SLS launch vehicle,” said Mike Bolger, NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We have been working diligently towards this moment and are honored to contribute to our nation’s space exploration goals with the launch of Artemis I.”

Pegasus Barge Carrying Space Launch System

The Pegasus barge, carrying the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) core stage, passes through Port Canaveral on its way to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 27, 2021, after journeying from the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

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. The mission will be a stepping stone 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.


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