Under Pressure

Structural Tests Underway for Top of World’s Most Powerful Rocket

Testing is underway at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on the agency’s new Space Launch System, the world’s most powerful rocket. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft will enable deep-space missions, beginning a new era of exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.

Engineers at Marshall have stacked four qualification articles of the upper part of SLS into a 65-foot-tall test stand using more than 3,000 bolts to hold the hardware together. Tests are currently underway to ensure the rocket hardware can withstand the pressures of launch and flight. 

The integrated tests consists of:

1. Launch Vehicle Adapter

2. Frangible Joint Assembly

3. Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage

4. Orion Stage Adapter

Engineers are using 28 load pistons to push, pull and twist the rocket hardware, subjecting it to loads up to 40 percent greater than that expected during flight. More than 100 miles of cables are transmitting measurements across 1,900 data channels.

The Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, LVSA, connects the SLS core stage and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, ICPS. The LVSA test hardware is 26.5 feet tall, with a bottom diameter of 27.5 feet and a top diameter of 16.8 feet. The frangible joint, located between the LVSA and ICPS, is used to separate the two pieces of hardware during flight, allowing the ICPS to provide the thrust to send Orion onto its mission.

The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS in 2018. For this test series, the fuel tanks are filled with nonflammable liquid nitrogen and pressurized with gaseous nitrogen to simulate flight conditions. The nitrogen is chilled to the same temperature as the oxygen and hydrogen under launch conditions.

The Orion Stage Adapter connects the Orion spacecraft to the ICPS. It is 4.8 feet tall, with a 16.8-foot bottom diameter and 18-foot top diameter.

The first integrated flight for SLS and Orion will allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test systems farther from Earth, and demonstrate Orion can get to a stable orbit in the area of space near the moon in order to support sending humans to deep space, including the Journey to Mars. 

For more information about the powerful SLS rocket, check out: http://nasa.gov/SLS

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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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What Will Happen When Betelgeuse Explodes?

“Every star will someday run out of fuel in its core, bringing an end to its run as natural source of nuclear fusion in the Universe. While stars like our Sun will fuse hydrogen into helium and then – swelling into a red giant – helium into carbon, there are other, more massive stars which can achieve hot enough temperatures to further fuse carbon into even heavier elements. Under those intense conditions, the star will swell into a red supergiant, destined for an eventual supernova after around 100,000 years or so. And the brightest red supergiant in our entire night sky? That’s Betelgeuse, which could go supernova at any time.”

One of the most sobering cosmic truths is that every star in the Universe will someday run out of fuel and die. Once its core fuel is exhausted, all it can do is contract under its own gravitational pull, fusing heavier and heavier elements until it can go no further. Only the most massive stars, capable of continuing to fuse carbon (and even heavier elements) will ever create the Universe’s ultimate cataclysmic event: a Type II, or core collapse, supernova. Stars that are fusing carbon (and up) appear to us today as red supergiants, and the brightest red supergiant as seen from Earth is Betelgeuse. Sometime in the next 100,000 years or so, Betelgeuse will go supernova. When it does, it will emit incredible amounts of radiation, become intrinsically brighter than a billion suns and and be easily visible from Earth during the day. But that’s not all.

What’s the full story on what will happen when Betelgeuse goes supernova? Come get the science today!