Insider Exclusive: America’s ‘Booster Belt’ Part Three (conclusion) – Marshall
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — We were headed out to the final stop of our tour of Marshall Space Flight Center where we would be shown the test stands that are being prepared to validate the various components that will comprise NASA’s new crew-rated rocket – the Space Launch System.
Whereas we had spent the earlier part of the day indoors, these structures…yeah. They are way to large to be indoors. They need to be this large as the components that will be tested in them – are massive. The barrel segment stands some 22 feet (7 meters) in height and weighs in at approximately 9,100 pounds (4,802 kg). It is constructed out of Al 2219, an aerospace-grade aluminum alloy.
“This is a brand new test stand and, as the name implies, we’re going to be testing the liquid hydrogen tank for the SLS vehicle. This test stand is brand new, or just a couple months old,” NASA’s SLS Stages Element Test Manager, Sam Stephens, told SpaceFlight Insider. “The tank is just like the ones that are going to fly on SLS, it’s built the exact same way, utilizing the same processes.”
When it is tested, the tank will experience approximately three million pounds of force, which will be done so as to try and compress the tank to ensure that it can withstand the loads that an actual tank would encounter on ascent.
There are a number of loads that the tank will be subjected to, from just sitting on Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B – to flying through the transonic regime – all will be tested at Marshall’s Stand 4693, the test stand’s official designation.
SLS’ Liquid Oxygen Tank will undergo a similar procedure at its own test stand that is located nearby. NASA took ownership of it in December of 2016 with work currently underway to modify it in preparation for these tests. For the Liquid Oxygen Tank, some 7 million pounds of force will be exerted to validate the tank’s design.
An extensive amount of work has gone into getting the site ready to prepare the site for these tests. Some 100 individuals from an array of backgrounds have been busy getting everything ready.
When all was said and done we acknowledged that, yes, the hardware, rocket components and sites were very impressive. However, in the final analysis, they would be nothing without the people who make it all possible and these weren’t the rocket scientists that Hollywood has tried to convince us are responsible for the miracle of space flight – these were everyday, hard-working Americans that look just like our neighbors.
When we started our journey, we thought our focus would be on the work that Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance and NASA is conducting to produce the rockets as well as the launch vehicles themselves. In the end, however, we were glad that we opted to take a closer look at the people who make these systems as without them, none of the astonishing accomplishments SpaceFlight Insider covers could take place.
Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider
The views expressed in this feature are solely those of the author and don not, necessarily reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider.
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.