- Space Launch System (SLS) will launch for the first time in November this year with the Artemis-1 mission
- This includes tests of the Orion crew capsule that will take astronauts to the moon in 2023
- This is the first time the core stage and boosters of the 'megarocket' have been stacked together
- Engineers working at Florida's Kennedy Space Center finished lowering the 212ft tall core stage between two smaller booster rockers on Friday NASA has finished assembling its massive $18.6 billion (£13.18 billion) Space Launch System (SLS) 'megarocket' that will fly astronauts back to the moon over the coming decade.
SLS will launch for the first time in November this year, sending the Orion capsule on an uncrewed jaunt around the moon as part of the first Artemis mission.
Engineers working at Florida's Kennedy Space Centre finished lowering the 212ft tall core stage between two smaller booster rockers on Friday.This is the first time the core stage and two boosters have been together in their launch configuration since the project was announced in 2011.
The complete setup now sits fully assembled on the mobile launcher inside the Kennedy spaceport's iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
The 212-foot-tall core stage, which will provide more than two million pounds of thrust at launch, arrived at Kennedy on April 27.
The massive core stage houses propellant tanks and four engines to provide the thrust necessary to get the heavy payload of the ground.
Together with the two solid rocket boosters, the SLS rocket will provide more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust to launch the first of NASA's next-generation Artemis Moon missions, with Artemis-1 launching in November this year.
Artemis-1 is the name given to the first test flight of the next generation Orion crew capsule, that will take astronauts to lunar orbit ahead of a landing.
Now the core stage is in place with the boosters, NASA will integrate other elements of the rocket needed for launch preparedness testing to begin.
These tests, to be carried out inside the VAB, are required before the Orion spacecraft can be added and the vehicle can be moved to the launchpad.
The mobile launcher serves as a platform not just for stacking but as a key supplier of power, communications, coolants, and propellant for the rocket and spacecraft.
The core stage has undergone extensive testing in Mississippi as part of the Green Run evaluation, including static fire tests of the engines.
In March the core stage engines were fired for eight minutes - the time it takes for SLS to get from the ground up into space.
With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the Moon and establish sustainable exploration in preparation for missions to Mars.
SLS and NASA's Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the moon, are NASA's backbone for deep space exploration, fulfiling the goal of making lunar exploration sustainable.
The plan is that in the future, astronauts will launch in Orion atop SLS, reach lunar orbit where they will dock with the Gateway, and be taken to the surface in a lander.
SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission, according to NASA.
WHAT IS NASA'S SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM?
Nasa's Space Launch System, or SLS, is an advanced launch vehicle that will 'provide the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit', according to the space agency.
Launching with unprecedented thrust power, SLS will carry crews of up to four astronauts in the agency’s Orion spacecraft on missions to explore deep-space destinations.
Offering more payload mass, volume capability and energy to speed missions through space than any current launch vehicle, SLS is designed to evolve over several decades to keep up with modern technologies and payloads.
These include robotic scientific missions to places like the Moon, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
The rocket's first launch, which will be unmanned, is set for 2020 at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The initial configuration for what SLS can carry past low-Earth orbit and on to the moon is more than 26 metric tons, with a final configuration of at least 45 metric tons.
Nasa intends to send humans to 'deep-space' destinations such as Mars and the moon aboard the SLS, with a date for a mission to the red planet set for the 2030s.