NASA is another step closer to completing all main structures for the agency’s first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), a behemoth booster designed to send astronauts on expeditions into deep space.

The liquid oxygen (O2) flight tank was recently built in the Vertical Assembly centre robotic welder at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. After the liquid O2 tank was inspected, it was moved to another area for plug welding to fill the holes left by the friction stir welding process. 

Five major parts – the engine section, liquid hydrogen (H2) tank, intertank, liquid O2 tank and forward skirt – will be connected together to form the 212ft tall core stage, the backbone of the SLS rocket. Boeing, the prime contractor for the core stage, is welding the liquid H2 tank structure – the final major core stage structure to be built for the first integrated flight of SLS and the Orion capsule.

“This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known. It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”

Mike Sarafin, Exploration Mission-1 Mission Manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington

The liquid H2 and O2 tanks will hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to power the stage’s four RS-25 engines that together produce more than two million pounds of thrust.

The SLS, the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, and Orion is expected to blast off from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s modernised spaceport at Kennedy Space Centre in 2019.

Exploration Mission-1, NASA’s first test mission of the SLS rocket and Orion, will not have humans aboard but it will pave the way for future missions with astronauts. Ultimately, it will help NASA prepare for missions to the Red Planet.

Mike Sarafin, Exploration Mission-1 Mission Manager at NASA Headquarters in Washingston, said, “This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known. It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”

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Source: NASA/Jude Guidry