Boeing’s Progress on SLS Core Stage Final Assembly at KSC

Boeing is making significant progress in the production of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) core stages. As the completion of NASA’s second SLS core stage at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans nears, Boeing is also continuing the production of hardware for the next two units. However, there is a change in the production process, as future builds will now undergo final construction at their launch site, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

The core stage for Artemis II, the second mission, will be the last one completed at MAF. Future builds, including the core stage for Artemis III, will be carried out at KSC. Boeing has already transported the engine section for Artemis III to Florida for outfitting and hopes to have its new facilities in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) ready by the end of 2024. The structures for the Artemis IV core stage are also in production, with delivery of the engine section structure expected in the first part of next year.

The completion of the core stage for Artemis II is nearing its final integrated testing. Boeing is primarily focused on this production work at MAF. However, NASA is still aiming for a scheduled launch of the next mission, Artemis III, just a year after Artemis II. The work on the third core stage is expected to be completed in 2025, with the final phase of production moving from MAF to facilities at KSC.

The engine section for the Artemis III core stage was transported to KSC last December for outfitting. The rest of the stage will continue to be assembled at MAF. The subassembly of the other four major stage elements will be transported by barge to KSC for final assembly in High Bay 2 of the VAB.

The completion of the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank structure has faced some challenges, causing delays in its production timelines. The welding of the aft dome of the tank has proven to be problematic due to the as-built condition of the gore body. However, Boeing and NASA are working on resolving these issues and have implemented corrective actions.

The outfitting of the engine section is progressing at the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at Kennedy. The goal is to complete the outfitting by the end of 2024, aligning with the timeline for the rest of the stage to be ready for final assembly. Boeing is also constructing a final assembly facility in VAB High Bay 2 at Kennedy to optimize the production process.

The production of the core stages for Artemis IV and beyond is also underway. The engine section and intertank for Artemis IV are progressing towards structural completion. The engine section structure is planned to be shipped to KSC in early 2024. The production plan takes into account the delays encountered in finishing the last welds for the Artemis III core stage.

Boeing aims to reach a delivery rate of two SLS core stages annually. To achieve this, they are looking to optimize the floor space at MAF and utilize the new two-site production plan. The construction of final assembly facilities in Building 103 at Michoud will help support this goal.

The production of core stages for future missions, such as Artemis V, has also started. However, NASA is planning to transition the SLS program to a commercial services contract. The agency has ordered long-lead materials and parts for the fifth and sixth core stages.

Boeing is closely monitoring the recovery of the aerospace supply chain following the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has implemented a nimble production system that allows for resequencing and rearranging production lines to ensure work continuity.

Overall, Boeing’s progress in the production of SLS core stages is moving forward, with plans to improve efficiency and meet the ambitious timeline set by NASA for the Artemis missions.