Spaceflight Insider

Massive SLS test stand completed at Marshall

In order to ensure the core stage of the Space Launch System can endure the rigors of launch, test stand 4693 was built to test the liquid hydrogen tank of the massive vehicle. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

In order to ensure that the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System can endure the rigors encountered during liftoff, test stand 4693 was built. It will simulate launch stresses on the liquid hydrogen qualification test article. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Huntsville, Alabama, recently marked the completion of major construction for Test Stand 4693, wrapping up work that began in May 2014. Engineers will now connect networks of cables, pipes, valves control systems, cameras, and other equipment needed to test the massive Space Launch System (SLS) hydrogen tank.

Test Stand 4693 is the largest of two new Space Launch System test stands. Photo Credit: Emmett Given / NASA / Marshall Space Flight Center

Test Stand 4693 is the largest of two new Space Launch System dedicated test stands. Photo Credit: Emmett Given / NASA / Marshall Space Flight Center

Standing some 221 feet (67.4 meters) tall, Test Stand 4693 is designed to simulate in every way the crushing stresses and powerful dynamics of launch. The 149-foot (59-meter) tall, Boeing-built SLS liquid hydrogen tank qualification test article will be out through its paces here.

The test article was built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and coupled with equipment to simulate the other parts of the 212-foot-long (65 meter) core stage. Once the test article is completed, it will be shipped by barge from Michoud to Marshall.

“There is no other facility that can handle something as big as the SLS hydrogen tank,” Sam Stephens, an SLS engineer working on the tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said via a release issued by the agency. “There are few places in the world like NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility that could build the things, and even fewer that can test them.”

During launch, the 212-foot (65-meter) core stage will feed 733,000 U.S. gallons (∼2.8 million liters) of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to four Space Shuttle-era RS-25 engines. It is predicted that, in total, an estimated 2 million pound-force (8.9 MN) of thrust will be produced.

To prepare for SLS’ first flight, Exploration Mission 1, currently scheduled for late 2018, Test Stand 4693 will subject the hydrogen qualification tank to over 30 scenarios of pushing and pulling in different combinations. These scenarios are able to apply millions of pounds of crushing force. These stresses will be applied via 38 hydraulic cylinders or “loadlines” – each weighing from 500 pounds (227 kilograms) to as much as 3,200 pounds (1,451 kilograms).

“The scale and capability of this test stand are unique, and creating it has taken people from across the country, from all walks of life – concrete suppliers and finishers, steel fabricators and erectors, bolt manufacturers and more,” said NASA’s Robert Bobo, manager of SLS structural strength testing at Marshall. “Everyone who’s touching this is proud of the Space Launch System, an American rocket that will send astronauts farther [into] space than humans have ever traveled before.”

Stephens echoed the sentiment and said that those working on the project knows that even the smallest things matter.

“It really comes down to people when you need to get anything done. And I think NASA brings out the best in people,” Stephens said. “It’s the sense of awe and wonder about what’s out there, about exploration, imagination, pride and patriotism. It’s what happens because of our mission.”

Back in September of 2016, NASA completed major construction on nearby Test Stand 4697, which is planned for use on the SLS liquid oxygen tank test article. Both stands were designed and developed by Marshall’s Test Laboratory and the Office of Center Operations.

Testing of both qualification tanks is currently expected to commence beginning late summer 2017.

Video courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Center



David Brown is a commercial photographer and eight year U.S. Army veteran. He has produced imagery for the Los Angeles Times ( arrival of Space Shuttle Endeavour) the Department of the Navy (USS Enterprise) as well as numerous news and travel outlets across the United States. While serving in the military Brown studied criminal science, history, and literature at North Western University and the University of Maryland. The endeavor closest to Brown's heart is his non-profit dog and animal rescue Faces of Allowing him to bring his experience behind the camera and his love of dogs to assist the many rescue organization across the US. Together with his best friend Shutter they have rescued or assisted in the rescue of more than 1,000 dogs since 2013.

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