The last piece of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket hardware has been added to the stack at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Crews with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs added the Orion stage adapter to the top of the rocket inside the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building. To complete the Artemis I stack, crews will soon add the Orion spacecraft and its launch abort system on top of Orion stage adapter.
The Orion stage adapter, built at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama connects Orion to the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which was built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. During the mission, the ICPS will fire one RL10 engine in a maneuver called trans-lunar injection, or TLI, to send Orion speeding toward the Moon.
As Orion heads to the Moon for its mission, the ICPS will separate from Orion and then deploy 10 secondary payloads that are riding to space inside the Orion stage adapter. These CubeSats have their own propulsion systems that will take them on missions to the Moon and other destinations in deep space.
While the ICPS and Orion stage adapter are making it possible for SLS to send its first science payloads to space on this uncrewed mission, they only will be used for the first three Artemis missions. The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a more powerful stage with four RL10 engines, will be used on future Artemis missions. The EUS can send 83,000 pounds to the Moon, which is 40 percent more weight than the ICPS. The EUS makes it possible to send Orion, astronauts, and larger and heavier co-manifested payloads to the Moon.
Artemis I will be followed by a series of increasingly complex missions. With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.