NASA’s assembly line: The next five years’ worth of Moon rockets will soon be ready

6. september 2022 kl. 17:41
NASA’s assembly line: The next five years’ worth of Moon rockets will soon be ready
The 65-meter-long main stage for the Artemis II mission in 2024 will soon be ready. Illustration: Nasa.
Lockheed Martin is using new technologies to make 18 new main engines more powerful and cheaper.
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For many NASA technicians, the new Moon rocket Artemis 1 is already history. In the assembly buildings of the space agency and their subcontractors, three new Moon rockets, engines, and parts for even more missions are being bolted and welded.

The Artemis 1 mission is to be followed by a manned trip to the Moon in 2024, a landing in 2025, and another mission in 2027, and the ongoing work clearly shows that NASA is not just talking but has invested heavily in the plan.

The rocket for the first manned mission is already so far along that the final assembly of the 65-meter-high main stage is expected to be completed in March, according to NASASpaceFlight. And as far as the manned Orion capsule goes, technicians were recently able to switch on the electronics and test all the systems in the capsule, which also required 11 kilometres of cable.

Artemis and the SLS rocket

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission is the first major step towards sending humans to the Moon. The first mission will be carried out with a so-called Block 1 version of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will fly unmanned on a several-week journey around the Moon and back. In a few years, people will be on board as well.

Height: 98 meters
Lifting capacity (orbit/Moon): 95/27 tons
Engines: SLS copies the space shuttle design, and the first stage consists of four RS-25 main engines with two solid propellant motors (SRBs). Stage 2 uses RL-10 engines with oxygen and hydrogen.
Main engine: Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25
Fuel: Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen
Thrust (RS-25): 1.8 MN
ISP (RS-25 at sea level): 366 seconds
Thrust-to-weight ratio (RS-25): 73:1

Read more in Ingeniøren’s focus Mission to the Moon II, where you will also find videos and photos.

The capsule has also been connected to the European Service Module—built by the ESA—and both will soon undergo classic tests, where they will be exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations and vacuum, for example. Next, the capsule will be lifted onto the SLS rocket inside the tall VAB (Vertical Assembly Building) at the Kennedy Space Center—and then it is basically ready for lift-off.

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Orion 2 will also be the first capsule to fly with all life support systems. Not all of those systems will be tested with Orion 1.

Space capsule for the Moon landing is halfway done

At Lockheed Martin, the company responsible for most of Orion’s construction, technicians are also assembling the third Orion capsule, which will be the first to be reused and flown later on the Artemis 6 mission.

Orion 2 is now ready for system tests. Illustration: Nasa.

The pressurized interior with all its subsystems is ready, and the secondary structures are being installed, such as control systems. This autumn, Lockheed Martin expects to start connecting engine nozzles to the capsule, which is planned to fly in 2025.

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The pressure vessel for Orion 4 is also being assembled in NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, NASASpaceFlight writes.

In Michoud Assembly Facility, NASA is assembling the engine section with two giant tanks for the Artemis II mission in 2024.

Remote video URL

In the same building, Boeing is busy assembling the main stages for both Artemis 3 and 4. The majority of the third main stage is complete, while the central parts for fourth main stage have been built.

New welding techniques—lower costs

For the first four Artemis missions, NASA will use the 16 old RS-25 engines that they have left over from the Space Shuttle program, but they have ordered an additional 18 RS-25 engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The new engines will provide more thrust, and NASA estimates that they can be built at 30 percent less cost than when they were built for the Space Shuttle thanks to new construction techniques.

The new techniques include, for example, hot isostatic pressing and selective laser melting (SLM), where a laser is used to melt metal powder.

The first engines have already been tested for longer burns than previous RS-25 engines, up to 500 seconds at the Stennis Space Center in the so-called A1 Test Stand.

The new engines have also received a host of upgraded external components, such as valves, ducting, harnesses, and turbopumps. The upgrades also include a pogo accumulator to reduce oscillations due to high fuel pressure, NASA writes.

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