SLS engine section transport
The engine section (bottom center) of the SLS for Artemis 3 is moved from the Michoud Assembly Building to a barge Dec. 4 for transport to the Kennedy Space Center, where it will be outfitted separately from the rest of the core stage. Credit: NASA/Michael DeMocker

WASHINGTON — NASA and Boeing are changing how they assemble the core stage of the Space Launch System, moving some of the final integration work to the Kennedy Space Center.

Currently, the five major sections of the core stage — forward skirt, liquid oxygen tank, interstage, liquid hydrogen tank and engine section — are manufactured and joined together into a single unit at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The core stage for the Artemis 2 mission is being assembled in that manner and is scheduled to be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in 2023.

Starting with the SLS manufactured for Artemis 3, the upper four-fifths of the SLS — excluding the engine section — will be joined together at Michoud and shipped to KSC. The engine section will still be manufactured at Michoud but shipped separately to KSC, where it will undergo final outfitting at the Space Station Processing Facility there, including installation of its four RS-25 engines. It will later be attached to the rest of the core stage inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC.

The change, NASA said in a Dec. 6 statement, is intended to free up space at Michoud for additional SLS work. That includes production of the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), which will be used on the Block 1B version of the SLS starting with the Artemis 4 mission. The current Block 1 SLS uses the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage manufactured by United Launch Alliance at its Decatur, Alabama, factory.

That change in SLS manufacturing processes is already in effect. Workers moved the engine section for the Artemis 3 SLS from the Michoud factory to a barge Dec. 4, which will transport the stage to KSC later in the month.

A spokesperson for Boeing, the prime contractor for both the SLS core stage and EUS, said Dec. 7 that the revised plan will create approximately 125 jobs at Michoud and 145 jobs at KSC. Personnel at both facilities will be reassigned to support the shifting projects at each site, the spokesperson said.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...