Space Launch System Takes Shape At MSFC

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - A huge mechanical arm hovers over a giant metal ring, slowly carving out yet another layer of what will eventually become a prototype part, for the spacecraft designed to take us to Mars and beyond.

WHNT News 19's Michelle Stark recently got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the technology being used to build NASA's Space Launch System - known as SLS.

"The SLS will be the largest rocket ever built in the world," explained David Beaman, Manager of the SLS Spacecraft and Payload Integration Office at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Once complete, the SLS rocket will connect with an Orion capsule being built out of Johnson Space Center. The ring being built at MSFC is an interface ring for the MSA or (MPCV) Stage Adapter, which will eventually be used to help connect SLS with Orion. An early exploration flight test is scheduled for April 2014.

It'll cost millions to finish just one prototype ring, refine the design process, then build a ring to use in the upcoming test missions. Much of the technology being used was proven during the shuttle days. "You wanna make something as strong as you can but also as light as you can," explained Beaman.

To do that, the ring is made of aluminum. Creating the finished process is far from easy though. In fact, the huge machine carving it out one swipe at a time is one of only two in the world that can do the job.

"It never gets old," said David Osborn, MSFC Machinist, "It's really a fun machine to run." It's a difficult job too. Waiver the arm or measurements even a tiny bit and the whole ring could be scrapped.

Despite debate over NASA's future and funding, team coordinators want to get the message out that work on the next generation of space flight is alive and moving at MSFC, with a prototype ring just one part of a larger process involving design, manufacturing and collaboration.

"We're busy, it's exciting," stressed Beaman. "My office is getting the opportunity to build some homemade flight hardware."

Make sure to look for Michelle Stark's full report from WHNT News 19 at 6:30 p.m.