nasa rocket testing

Put to the Test: Orion Service Module

Blasted with sound, shaken for hours and pyro detonated, the Orion Service Module Completes Ground Tests at our Glenn Research Center

We recently completed a structural integrity evaluation on the test version of the Orion service module at our Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Designed to ensure the module can withstand launch atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the battery of tests was conducted in stages over a 16-month period.

The 13-ton European service module will power, propel and cool Orion, while supplying vital oxygen and water to its crew during future missions.

The Powerhouse: Space Launch System and Orion

Our Space Launch System is an advanced launch vehicle that will usher in a new era of human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. SLS, with its unparalleled power and capabilities, will launch missions to explore deep-space destinations aboard our Orion spacecraft.

What is Orion? Named after one of the largest constellations in the night sky and drawing from more than 50 years of spaceflight research and development, the Orion spacecraft will be the safest, most advanced spacecraft ever built. It will be flexible and capable enough to take astronauts to a variety of deep destinations, including Mars.

Welcome to the Buckeye State

In November 2015, the full-sized test version of the Orion service module arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport aboard an Antonov AN-124. After being unloaded from one of the world’s largest transport aircraft, the module was shipped more than 50 miles by truck to Plum Brook for testing.

Spread Your Wings

The first step of the service module’s ground test journey at Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility, saw one of its 24-foot solar array wings deployed to verify operation of the power system. The test confirmed the array extended and locked into place, and all of the wing mechanisms functioned properly.

Can You Hear SLS Now?

The SLS will produce a tremendous amount of noise as it launches and climbs through our atmosphere. In fact, we’re projecting the rocket could produce up to 180 decibels, which is louder than 20 jet engines operating at the same time.

While at the Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility, the service module was hit with more than 150 decibels and 20-10,000 hertz of sound pressure. Microphones were placed inside the test environment to confirm it matched the expected acoustic environment during launch.

After being blasted by sound, it was time to rock the service module, literally.

Shake Without the Bake 

Launching atop the most powerful rocket ever built – we’re talking more than eight million pounds of thrust – will subject Orion to stresses never before experienced in spaceflight.

To ensure the launch doesn’t damage any vital equipment, the engineering team utilized the world’s most powerful vibration table to perform nearly 100 different tests, ranging from 2.5 Hz to 100 Hz, on the module in the summer of 2016. 

Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated

The team then moved the Orion test article from the vibration table into the high bay for pyroshock tests, which simulated the shock the service module will experience as it separates from the SLS during launch.

Following the sound, vibration and separation tests, a second solar array wing deployment was conducted to ensure the wing continued to properly unfurl and function.

Headed South for the Summer

The ground test phase was another crucial step toward the eventual launch of Exploration Mission-1, as it validated extensive design prep and computer modeling, and verified the spacecraft met our safety and flight requirements.

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Four Cool Facts About Our New Rocket’s Booster Test Firing

The countdown to our last full-scale test firing of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket boosters has begun (mark your calendars: June 28, 8:05 a.m. MDT [local time] 10:05 a.m. EDT). SLS is NASA’s new rocket that can go to deep space destinations, and this test is one more step on our Journey to Mars. This test will be broadcast live on NASA TV and our Facebook page. For those watching at home or work, here are four cool things that might not be so obvious on the screen.

1. So Hot, It Turns Sand Into Glass

With expanding gases and flames exiting the nozzle at speeds in excess of Mach 3 and temperatures reaching 3,700 degrees Fahrenheit, say goodbye to some of the sand at Orbital ATK’s test facility in the Utah desert because after the test, the sand at the aft, or rear, end of the booster motor will be glass.

2. This Motor’s Chill

This motor has been chilling — literally, down to 40 degrees — since the first week in May in Orbital ATK’s “booster house,” a special building on rails that moves to enclose the booster and rolls back so the motor can be test-fired. Even though SLS will launch from the normally balmy Kennedy Space Center in Florida, temperatures can vary there and engineers need to be sure the booster will perform as expected whether the propellant inside the motor is 40 degrees or 90 degrees (the temperature of the propellant during the first full-scale test, Qualification Motor 1 or QM-1).

3. This Booster’s on Lockdown

If you happen to be near Promontory, Utah, on June 28, you can view the test for yourself in the public viewing area off State Route 83. And don’t worry, this booster’s not going anywhere — engineers have it locked down. The motor is held securely in place by Orbital ATK’s T-97 test stand.  During the test, the motor will push against a forward thrust block with more than three million pounds of force. Holding down the rocket motor is more than 13 million pounds of concrete — most of which is underground. The test stand contains a system of load cells that enable engineers to measure the thrust the motor produces and verify their predictions.

4. Next Time, It’s For Real

These solid rocket boosters are the largest and most powerful ever built for flight. They’ve been tested and retested in both full-scale and smaller subsystem-level tests, and vital parts like the nozzle, insulation and avionics control systems have been upgraded and revamped. Most of this work was necessary because, plainly put, SLS needs bigger boosters. Bigger boosters mean bolder missions – like around the moon during the first integrated mission of SLS and Orion. So the next time we see these solid rocket motors fire, they will be propelling SLS off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center and on its first flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft. For real.