Spaceflight Insider

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — SpaceFlight Insider continued its tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center with a stop to speak with Heather Haney, NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) Stages Element Test Manager. She detailed the work being done to ready the massive new rocket’s core stage ready for its inaugural flight.

A test article for NASA's Space Launch System engine section was delivered to the space agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama on May 15. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

The test article for NASA’s Space Launch System engine section was delivered to the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama on May 15. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

Haney relayed the work that is being done to the highly complex test stand used to validate SLS’ core stage – in terms we could understand. As we’d seen elsewhere on our tour, the workforce was busy ensuring that the test structure’s base ring, kick ring, pedestal and spider assembly would perform as advertised.

This is, by no means, an easy feat.

Again, I found myself incredibly intimidated by the ease at which Haney detailed the specifics about the incredibly complicated structure. This was someone at the top of her game. Her complete grasp of the subject matter helped reinforce our view that the workforce that built these rockets, while giving the appearance of being average, everyday Americans – were anything but.

She broke down the various components of the test stand piece by piece, letting us know what each part would be used for.

“The light green part is what will simulate the liquid hydrogen tank and then there is some foam…that goes along that flange. We’ll do a cryo test on that to make sure that that flange is good,” Haney told SpaceFlight Insider.

The SLS engine section structural test article arrived on NASA’s Pegasus barge in May of this year (2017), this was the first time that Pegasus had ever traveled to Marshall according to Haney. It had departed from the Space Agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility located in New Orleans on a journey of some 1,240 miles (1,996 km) starting on April 28.

‘We brought it up here on the lowboy from the barge and we did about six days worth of work on it before we moved it from our temporary stand into the test stand and then we began the buildup of everything that you see here between the pedestals, we call it like a birdcage, and then the spider assembly here at the top,” Haney said. 

Haney noted that there are more than 3,000 sensors on this test article, this includes some 1,400 strain gauges which are being ‘channelized’ with trouble-shooting underway to seek out any potential issues before testing begins. There will also be more than 55 load lines on the test article which will be employed to apply to the different forces required for testing.

The test article will not use any engines, rather this will be simulated via the loads added.

The test article also includes elements to simulate the Solid Rocket Boosters that Orbital ATK is preparing for the first flights of NASA’s new super heavy lift rocket. It turns out that during ascent, the SRBs have the tendency to want to pull away from the rocket’s stack and Haney noted that these elements will aid NASA in terms of ensuring that when the SLS does fly – it is structurally sound enough to hold the SRBs into place until they are jettisoned around two minutes into the launch vehicle’s flight.

Some 1,100 companies are engaged in the development and production of SLS across the United States and SpaceFlight Insider was introduced to some of the workers who were involved in building the rocket throughout the course of the day. It became clear that working on the rocket was a source of intense pride for these folks.

“SLS is a huge effort, it’s America’s rocket and it’s not just ours, although we do get the benefit of testing it and seeing this cool hardware…but this is – this is awesome, this a job that we all dream of having,” Haney said. “Just to be a part of that – is amazing!”

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider

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

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the final feature in this series will appear on Saturday, Nov. 25.





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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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