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What to know about NASA's mobile launcher

(NASA via Wikimedia Commons)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA opened its doors in Cape Canaveral for a last look at the mobile launcher as it makes its final roll on crawler transporter 2 to Launch Pad 39-B prior to the much anticipated Artemis mission—NASA’s mission to get to the moon and eventually to Mars. Over the next three months, the mobile launcher will undergo tests to make sure it is safe to use for Artemis 1.

What is the Mobile Launcher?

The mobile launcher is the ground structure that will be used to assemble, process and launch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule. The launch will take place from historic launch pad 39B in Cape Canaveral at the Kennedy Space Center. It is the launch pad used for missions involving deep space destinations such as the moon, Mars and beyond. The Orion spacecraft would will sit atop the SLS rocket and processed on the mobile launcher.

The mobile launcher has a two-story base which acts as the platform for the rocket and a tower equipped with a number of connection lines, and launch accessories that power SLS and Orion and also give them coolant, fuel and stabilization prior to launch. The tower also has a walkway for crews.

How will it work for the Artemis mission?

The launcher will roll out to the pad on top of the crawler-transporter, while carrying the SLS and Orion. It will be an 8 hour trip to the pad, just over 4 miles away. Engineers will lower the launcher onto the pad and remove the crawler-transporter. During the launch, the launcher will release from the connecting cords.

Over the next 3 months, the mobile launcher will undergo final testing at Launch Pad 39-B to assure it is good to go. The next time it makes its way to Launch pad-39B, it will transport NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule for the launch of Artemis 1, part of the agency’s larger, sustainable Moon to Mars exploration approach.

More about the making of the Mobile Launcher

The mobile launcher structure is being modified by NASA’S Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) Program. Hensel Phelps constructed the structure and facility support systems during the first phase of development, according to NASA.

The design and prototyping of the necessary ground support equipment subsystems was performed by Vencore, the Kennedy engineering services contractor. JP Donovan Construction Inc. performed the work to widen the opening on the base of the launcher from approximately 22x22 feet to 34x64 feet to accommodate the configuration of the SLS and its twin solid rocket boosters.

NASA selected J.P Donovan Construction Inc. for the current phase of work under a firm, installing and integrating ground support equipment systems onto the mobile launcher, modifying the structure with the systems necessary to assemble, process and launch NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule. The scope of work includes installing more than 800 mechanical, electrical and fluid panels, 300,000-plus feet of cabling, and miles of tubing and piping that will support the SLS rocket. RS&H completed the structural design and is providing engineering support to the team and the construction of that design.

By the Numbers

  • Total height above ground: 380 feet
  • Tower: 40 feet square, about 355 feet tall
  • Tower floor levels: Every 20 feet for personnel access to vehicle and ground support equipment
  • Approximate weight: 10.5 million pounds