CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The first piece of hardware of the first Artemis rocket to fly humans around the moon in decades has arrived in Florida.
Boeing is the prime contractor for NASA’s Space Launch System, the space agency’s Artemis moon program rocket but there are many contractors who contribute to the mega rocket. In collaboration with Boeing, United Launch Alliance built and delivered the interim cryogenic propulsion stage for the SLS to its facilities at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on July 28.
This particular piece of rocket hardware will provide the propulsion needed to send NASA’s Orion spacecraft and its crew to the moon. The Aerojet Rocketdyne engine produces 27,750 pounds of thrust to provide the final push to send Orion on its journey.
The first Artemis mission rocket, known as Artemis I, is already at Kennedy Space Center undergoing final assembly before launch. No one will be on board that launch planned for late this year, but it will mark a critical milestone for NASA as the following launch will have at least two NASA astronauts on board.
“ULA is honored to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program by supplying the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage for the initial flights of the Space Launch System (SLS),” ULA vice president Government and Commercial Programs Gary Wentz said. “ICPS-2 will place Orion on the required trajectory for its crewed test flight around the Moon.”
The company said the interim cryogenic propulsion stage will undergo final processing before it’s moved up the coast to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA plans to return humans to the moon’s surface for the first time in nearly half a century as soon as 2024. However, the Artemis program has faced many delays and a recent review of the program by NASA Office of Inspector General found that the agency may not have spacesuits for the astronauts ready in time for their first steps on the moon, potentially delaying the first crewed flight well into 2025.
When SLS does launch Artemis I, it will send the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory to orbit the moon and return to Earth, providing an end-to-end test of NASA’s launch system and spacecraft.
According to NASA’s most recent timeline, the Artemis II mission with crew is targeted for 2023 from Kennedy Space Center Launchpad 39B.
Eventually, NASA and its international partners will launch astronauts to an orbiting station around the moon known as the lunar Gateway. The crew will stop at the Gateway before riding down the moon’s surface in SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. NASA awarded Elon Musk’s company a nearly $3 billion contract for the first human moon landing system.
If NASA and its partners can mine resources and establish a sustainable presence on the moon, it will provide a proving ground for future deep-space exploration to Mars and beyond.