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Space Launch System
An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Space Launch System in flight. (NASA Illustration)

When NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket starts carrying astronauts beyond Earth orbit in the 2020s, it’ll also be carrying a key component built by Kirkland, Wash.-based Systima Technologies.

Systima will be responsible for providing a 27.6-foot-wide, ring-shaped joint assembly that separates the rocket’s universal stage adapter from its upper stage. The assembly will allow for the deployment of cargo and secondary payloads from the SLS once it rises into orbit.

Systima won the contract for the separation joint system this month from Dynetics, an Alabama-based company that’s the prime contractor for the universal stage adapter. The value of Systima’s contract is undisclosed, but it’s part of NASA’s $221.7 million contract with Dynetics.

“Systima is proud to be part of our country’s effort to push the boundaries of human exploration and discovery,” Tom Prenzlow, the company’s president, said in a news release. “Myself and the entire Systima team stand ready to help make this mission a success.”

SLS components
This diagram identifies the components of the SLS Block 1B rocket, focusing on the universal stage adapter. Click on the image for a larger version. (NASA Illustration)

The joint system will be adapted from similar hardware that Systima has built for other launch systems. It’ll be integrated into the universal stage adapter in time for the Space Launch System’s first crewed flight, EM-2, which is currently scheduled to send astronauts around the moon in the early 2020s.

NASA is spending billions of dollars to develop the SLS as a rocket capable of sending astronauts to cislunar space as well as to Mars and other deep-space destinations. The version that’s being developed for EM-2 is designed to have a 77-ton lift capacity to low Earth orbit, which would make it the most powerful rocket since the days of the Saturn V moon shots.

Systima was founded in 2002, and manufactures energetic components for defense, space and commercial markets. It also runs an environmental testing lab in Kirkland to support system qualification.

Other SLS contractors with connections to the Seattle area include Boeing, which is the prime contractor for the launch vehicle’s cryogenic stages and avionics suite; and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is working on the rocket’s liquid-fueled engines.

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