Spaceflight Insider

Space Launch System upper stage testing set to begin

Keith Higginbotham, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) Integrated Structural Test Lead, speaks to media at the Nov. 16 event. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

Keith Higginbotham, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Integrated Structural Test Lead, speaks to media at the Nov. 16 event. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

Huntsville, Ala. — This past week, on Nov. 15, a test version of the Space Launch System’s (SLS) Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) was moved to Marshall Space Flight Center’s (MSFC) historic West Test Area in preparation for early 2017 testing. SpaceFlight Insider was on hand at a media event following the move.

Space Launch System. Portions of the Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test Article (STA) in MSFC Test Stand 4699. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

Portions of the SLS Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test Article (STA) in MSFC Test Stand 4699. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

“We’re really making great progress on the Space Launch System rocket,” said Steve Creech, Deputy Manager of SLS Spacecraft / Payload Integration and Evolution. “This is a big step for us. We’re past the design phase. We’re into the testing phase and getting ready for launching in 2018.”

SLS is NASA’s new super heavy-lift launch vehicle. It will be capable of carrying astronauts in the agency’s new crew-rated capsule – Orion – on deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Its first flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), an uncrewed test flight around the Moon, is scheduled for 2018.

The ICPS will now be lifted into Test Stand 4699, mated with an Orion simulator, an Orion stage adapter, a test version of the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA), a simulated Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine, and a core stage simulator – collectively known as the Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test Article (STA) – and be subjected to a series of tests.

Keith Higginbotham, SLS Integrated Structural Test Lead, explained, “One of the main things we’re wanting to accomplish with this test is, basically, to impose the same loads that we expect to see in flight . . . so that we can quantify it and then convince ourselves that we are ready to fly.”

The ICPS test article was constructed by United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Decatur, Ala., and handed over to SLS contractor, Boeing, in Oct. 2015.

In June of this year, the test article was shipped from Decatur to MSFC, via Tennessee River barge, and placed in storage.

“You’re seeing our major structural test hardware, but our flight unit hardware, for all of these pieces, is in work now and well along toward production for flight in 2018,” added Creech.

The EM-1 “flight” ICPS is under construction at ULA. When completed, it will be shipped to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to be mated with the EM-1 SLS core stage (currently under construction at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in Louisiana) and the EM-1 Orion capsule (currently under construction at KSC).

“People get excited when they start seeing big articles built and things really come together,” said Higginbotham. “I think it’s a really exciting time.”

Space Launch System. Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test graphic. Image Credit: NASA

SLS Integrated Upper Stage Structural Test graphic. Image Credit: NASA

Click here for more photos from the Nov. 15 event, and click here for MSFC video of the ICPS test article being moved to, and installed in, Test Stand 4699.

 

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Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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