NASA SLS Exploration Upper Stage Passes Critical Design Review


Illustration of NASA’s Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for upcoming missions of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for future flights of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket has passed its Critical Design Review, or CDR.

A panel of experts evaluated the EUS in the latest review to determine that the stage’s design meets the requirements for future missions. This most recent assessment certifies the EUS meets critical design requirements to withstand deep space environments and when completed will ensure astronaut safety. The review board also evaluated testing processes, the ability of the industrial base to supply parts and tooling, and production plans. Boeing, the prime contractor for the EUS as well as the core stage, will manufacture and assemble the upper stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. 

A structural test article of the stage will undergo testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed. The flight article will undergo Green Run testing at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, before its first flight, similar to the SLS core stage Green Run testing currently in progress, including a hot firing of the engines.

SLS Exploration Upper Stage Infographic

Exploration Upper Stage for SLS

This illustration shows the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for the evolved configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. NASA completed the Critical Design Review for the upper stage on Friday, December 18. This most recent assessment certifies the EUS meets critical design requirements to withstand deep space environments and when completed will ensure astronaut safety. Credit: NASA/Terry White

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket delivers propulsion in stages to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft and heavy cargo to the Moon for the Artemis lunar missions.

At liftoff, the core stage and twin solid rocket boosters fire to propel the rocket off the launch pad send it into orbit. Once in orbit, the upper stage provides the in-space propulsion to set the spacecraft on a precise trajectory.

While the rocket’s core stage design will remain the same for each of the Artemis missions, the rocket’s upper stage is selected to meet various mission requirements and goals.

For the first three Artemis missions, including the mission that will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, SLS will utilize an interim cryogenic propulsion stage with one RL10 engine to send Orion to the Moon. Later missions with the evolved SLS Block 1B rocket configuration will use an exploration upper stage with larger fuel tanks and four RL10 engines to send a crewed Orion and large cargos to the Moon.

NASA’s Space Launch System will be the most powerful rocket they’ve ever built. When completed, SLS will enable astronauts to begin their journey to explore destinations far into the solar system.

NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, is a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle that provides the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. With its unprecedented power and capabilities, SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and cargo to the Moon on a single mission.

Offering more payload mass, volume capability, and energy, SLS is designed to be flexible and evolvable and will open new possibilities for payloads, including robotic scientific missions to places like the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.

The SLS team is producing NASA’s first deep space rocket built for human space travel since the Saturn V. Engineers are making progress toward delivering the first SLS rocket to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its first launch on the Artemis I lunar mission.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. SLS and Orion, along with the human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.

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