REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - A critical piece of Space Launch System flight hardware is finished at Marshall Space Flight Center and waiting for delivery to Kennedy Space Center.
The Orion Stage Adapter only provides 5 feet of the overall 322 feet of the SLS rocket's height, but it plays a key role. It connects the Orion spacecraft to the launch vehicle below.
"You have to be able to connect the payload to the rocket," said Andy Schorr, Deputy Manager of the Spacecraft/Payload Integration and Evolution Office. "It allows us to mate the Orion capsule to the propulsion element of the rocket... That's the adapter that connects the liquid hydrogen tank of the upper stage to the service module hardware that houses the Orion capsule."
The Orion Stage Adapter went from paper to reality in 20 months, thanks to work from team members at Marshall Space Flight Center. Many of them signed the inside of the adapter.
"We designed and built it here, in-house," said Brent Gaddes, Orion Stage Adapter Lead. "It's a piece of the rocket that belongs to us, that's going up, that we're especially proud of."
"It's a real blessing to me to be able to be a part of the team that helps develop this, that in turn we will turn over to another team to operate in the future," said Schorr.
The adapter is made of a strong but light aluminum with mounted brackets that will hold secondary payload: CubeSats, little satellites that will act as hitchhikers. They'll get a ride on the SLS into space and deploy after Orion separates. They'll get a jump-start on their individual journeys to study parts of space that need to be further explored and tested.
A team from Morehead State University in Kentucky will deploy Lunar Ice Cube, their CubeSat that will deploy near the moon.
"The moon's gravity actually pulls us into our science orbit," said Nicholas Counts, a graduate student. "We would be looking for the infrared signature of water ice on the permanently shaded craters of the moon."
The adapter can hold 13 CubeSats.
"This provides an opportunity for these payloads for deep space access they don't currently have," said Schorr.
The adapter is now part of the history the SLS will make. It will go on to Kennedy Space Center next month aboard the NASA Super Guppy.
"We are setting the stage for where we can put astronauts out there, and payload as well," said Gaddes. "The experience that we gained building this, with a whole new generation of engineers and scientists here at Marshall, allows us to do bigger and better things in the future."