According to a NASA statement, the agency is now ready to use its new Vertical Assembly Center to begin building the core state of the Space Launch System (SLS), the agency’s next generation of heavy-lift rocket. The Vertical Assembly Center is essentially a giant welding toolkit, one which measures 170 feet tall and 78 feet wide. It is located at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and officially opened on September 12.
The Vertical Assembly Center has already welded ten of the SLS core stage’s barrels together, and the Segmented Ring Tool has welded together the rings needed for the SLS’s initial flight which is currently planned for December. The five major structures of core – the forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, inter tank, liquid hydrogen tank, and engine section – will be comprised of domes and barrels that are connected and reinforced by the rings. The Vertical Assembly Center also will carry out assessments of the finished welds before the flight.
“The SLS Program continuest o make significant progress,” said SLS program manager Todd May. “The core stage and boosters have both completed critical design review, and NASA recently approved the SLS Program’s progression from formulation to development. This is a major milestone for the program and proof the first new design for SLS is mature enough for production.”
The finished core stage of the SLS will be over 200 feet tall and 27.6 feet wide. It will contain cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen that will fuel the four RS-25 engines.
The SLS will be the most powerful rocket designed for deep-space missions, such as forays to an asteroid and Mars. It will carry the Orion crew module; earlier in September, the Orion capsule for the initial test flight in December was completed. The Kennedy Space Center’s ground control facilities are being retooled to function with the SLS.