Boeing has initiated a contract with NASA to produce 10 Space Launch System core stages and up to eight exploration upper stages to support the third through 12th Artemis missions.
Up to 10 additional core stages may be ordered under the contract. Boeing is the prime contractor for the Space Launch System’s core stage, avionics and variations of the upper stage.
The Space Launch System is NASA’s deep space exploration rocket that will launch astronauts and cargo in the 27-metric ton Orion crew vehicle from Earth to the Moon and Mars.
NASA has provided the initial funding and authorization to Boeing to begin work towards the production of the third core stage and to order targeted long-lead materials and cost-efficient bulk purchases to support future builds of core stages. This action allows Boeing to manufacture the third core stage in time for the 2024 mission, Artemis III, while NASA and Boeing work on negotiations to finalize the details of the full contract within the next year.
“We greatly appreciate the confidence NASA has placed in Boeing to deliver this deep space rocket and their endorsement of our team’s approach to meeting this unprecedent technological and manufacturing challenge in support of NASA’s Artemis program,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch division.
Boeing plans to deliver the first core stage to NASA this year for Artemis I. Boeing designed, tested and built the first SLS core stage under the original NASA Stages contract, refurbishing the company’s manufacturing area at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, building test versions of the SLS structures and designing more efficient, modern tooling. The second core stage is simultaneously in production at MAF.
The core stage is the center part of the rocket that contains two liquid fuel tanks. Towering at 212 feet with a diameter of 27.6 feet, it will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and all the systems that will feed the stage’s four RS-25 engines. It also houses the flight computers and much of the avionics needed to control the rocket’s flight.
Last year Boeing delivered the first upper stage, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System built by United Launch Alliance in Decatur, for the Block 1 version of the evolvable vehicle. The more powerful Exploration Upper Stage design for the Block 1B version is in development, while the MAF facility is being prepared for that build.
“Boeing has implemented advanced manufacturing technologies for design, test and production of the core stages, which will make both core stage production and upper stage development faster, more efficient and safer,” said John Shannon, Boeing vice president and Space Launch System program manager. “The evolvable nature of the rocket will allow us to onboard new advances in materials and production technologies as we move forward to the Moon and on to Mars.”
The first three Artemis missions will use an interim cryogenic propulsion stage to send the Orion spacecraft to the Moon.
“NASA is committed to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon, and this action enables NASA to continue Space Launch System core stage production in support of that effort to help bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” said John Honeycutt, SLS Program manager at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “SLS is the only rocket powerful enough to send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission, and no other rocket in production today can send as much cargo to deep space as the Space Launch System rocket.”
The SLS rocket is designed to meet a variety of mission needs by evolving to carry greater mass and volume with a more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. NASA aims to use the first EUS on the Artemis IV mission.