Spaceflight Insider

Insider Exclusive: America’s ‘Booster Belt’ Part Three – Marshall

The workforce at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama is busy preparing the Space Launch for its maiden flight - Exploration Mission 1. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The workforce at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama is busy preparing the Space Launch for its maiden flight – Exploration Mission 1. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Named after General of the Army George Marshall, Marshall Space Flight Center is where NASA develops its rocket propulsion and other space flight systems. Used during the heady days of Apollo to check out the powerful F-1 engines used on the Saturn V Moon rockets, the site was later utilized to start the Space Shuttles’ 30 year legacy. We wondered though, would the folks who work for NASA be the same as those we had encountered earlier on our tour?

The answer was a resounding yes. 

Vikash Mahadeo and I met with Kim Mason Henry, one of the great Public Affairs Officers at Marshall. We had worked together in the past during our trips out to Promontory, Utah when I’d covered booster tests. Now we were in Kim’s backyard and she made us feel right at home. I felt rather embarrassed that I had forgotten I’d worked with Kim out there and for some reason, thought we’d only worked together when she was down at KSC. Thankfully, Kim’s memory was far better than my own. 

As noted, MSFC isn’t just about rocket engines It’s where the Huntsville Operations Support Center (HOSC) is located. This is where International Space Station launch, payload and experiment activities at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center are supported. Whenever a payload from MSFC is on board, the HOSC will monitor that launch as well.

The folks at Marshall showed us around a number of elements that are being used to prepare the agency’s new super heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System or “SLS” for flight.

The equipment used in the manufacture of rocket parts is almost as complex as the launch vehicles themselves. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The equipment used in the manufacture of rocket parts is almost as complex as the launch vehicles themselves. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Given the variety of locations, components and people that we had the opportunity to speak to throughout the course of the day we opted to change things up a bit and to break the last day into three segments.

The first of these was a clean room visit and the prerequisite bunny suits that we had to wear. We were escorted in to where the Orion Stage Adapter is being prepped for the maiden flight of SLS, Exploration Mission 1 or “EM-1” which is currently scheduled to take place some time in the 2019-2020 time frame. This Orion Stage Adapter is currently being prepared to not only allow Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft to be mated with SLS, but to also carry secondary payloads to orbit.

“The Orion stage adapter will be located at the very top of the SLS rocket…inside this big ring will be 13 small payloads, these are cubesats that will go into space along with the SLS rocket and once Orion leaves the vehicle they will be shot out…,” Brent Gaddes, the Orion Stage Adapter Manager told SpaceFlight Insider. “We’re getting ready now to install the individual brackets that hold these payloads inside the Orion Stage Adapter…”

The folks at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, designed, built and are completing the final assembly of the Orion Stage Adapter, something Gaddes noted with pride.

Commonality in engineering that is involved in producing space flight hardware appeared both on the components that will mate Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket as well as the Orion Stage Adapter in that both employ isogrid patterns in their construction.

This is done to reduce weight and to make the components as light as is possible.

When this segment is delivered into space, it will carry with it the names of many of the people who have worked on it. There names, inked onto the adapter, will go into a heliocentric (around the Sun) orbit.

With this part of our tour concluded, we doffed our bunny suits and headed over to chat with Andy Schorr who works with NASA as the Spacecraft Payload Integration and Evolution Deputy Manager He discussed the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter that comes off of the core stage or the “gas tank” as Schorr referred to it of SLS.

This part of the SLS “stack” is important in terms of sending Orion on its way around the Moon for the rocket’s first flight (EM-1 will be the second fight of an Orion spacecraft).

By this time, Vikash and myself had a chance to acclimate to our surroundings and began to pay special attention to the personnel and equipment that surrounded us. 

Schorr highlighted how NASA (among others) used a technique known as friction stir welding in which to produce the parts that will be used on EM-1 (for a better understanding of the process, please watch the video below). 

Vikash and myself looked around and, again, the workforce at Marshall were average, everyday Americans doing extraordinary things. They quietly went about their tasks with calm efficiency. For Vikash and myself this wasn’t surprising in the least, but we wanted to convey to the rest of the world, to folks who didn’t have the opportunity to tour sites like Marshall what the people who worked there were like – calm, professional and dedicated.

We had two more stops left on our review of MSFC, these will be posted in the following days and we hope that you’ll tune in to the remainder of the ‘Booster Belt’ series.

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider

The views expressed within this article are solely those of the author and do not, necessarily, reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider.

 

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Thank you! I’m really enjoying this series. Hope you’re having a great Thanksgiving.

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