There’s a lot of excitement surrounding NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – and for good reason.
After several delays caused by COVID-19, recurring natural disasters, and technical issues, SLS successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center and splashed down to Earth on December 11. This success marks the beginning of the next generation of space exploration and pushes NASA to the forefront of congressional priorities. This is a win, win for the future of the space industry.
The Artemis 1 mission had three goals: test the heat shield on the Orion capsule during re-entry to Earth, show that SLS and Orion are working properly throughout each part of the mission, and successfully bring Orion back to land after its splashdown. Every launch day on Florida’s Space Coast is exciting, but achieving this first uncrewed launch is particularly sweet for the thousands of Americans who have worked to make it happen. That includes me and my Floridian teammates who have supported the program.
My personal journey with the Artemis 1 mission started in 2012 when I joined the team designing and building the Core Stage (CS) of SLS. After working on the Space Shuttle Program for 27 years, I found the chance to work on a vehicle system targeting interplanetary exploration to be an exciting prospect.
Our team supported many aspects of CS development and production: integrating with the Boeing design team defining operational requirements and the design of support equipment and tooling during the development phase; rotating members to the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), where the CS was built to gain experience with the hardware while supplementing the MAF production team; integrating with the Operations team at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to assure proper handoff; and, following the vehicle to the Stennis Spaceflight Center (SSC) to actively support the successful test fire of the CS.
It was a proud day when we delivered the CS to KSC, and it is even more fulfilling now that Artemis 1 has launched our country into a new age of exploration.
Even more exciting than one launch is several – as we are building a fleet of SLS rocket systems with the second Core Stage intended for Artemis 2 nearing the end of its production to New Orleans and expected to ship to Kennedy Space Center for final assembly next year.
Congress is indicating its confidence in SLS and the Artemis missions in its NASA authorization bill. The legislation highlights several policy priorities that put SLS front and center of the U.S. space program and its future. Specifically, it directs NASA to carry out one or more missions each year after SLS’s first crewed mission, scheduled for 2025.
Ongoing Artemis missions will advance our knowledge of the moon, deep space, and even Mars. Here on Earth, they will keep dozens of manufacturers in business and thousands of workers employed. It will also help sustain the more than $5.5 billion in estimated economic impact SLS generates nationwide. The NASA authorization bill – included in a larger package known as the “Chips-plus” bill – was signed into law by President Biden. This is a huge step forward in securing a long-term space strategy.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an interview that “there’s going to be a vigorous future for the SLS.” Thanks to the work of NASA and congressional cooperation, there will also be a bright future and economic security for the American space industry and its many businesses that manufacture parts for the world’s most powerful rocket.
John “Cip” Cipolletti served as Space Launch System (SLS) Operations chief engineer and SLS Florida site lead in addition to numerous roles at Kennedy Space Center dating back to the space shuttle program. Cip has a Master of Science in Engineering from Rutgers University.