Spaceflight Insider

Super Guppy transports SLS test hardware from Marshall

NASA's Super Guppy aircraft retrieves SLS test hardware from MSFC on July, 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft retrieves SLS test hardware from MSFC on July 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft made an appearance in Huntsville earlier this week—arriving July 10 and departing July 11—at the Redstone Arsenal airfield, adjacent to the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). The aircraft was in town to retrieve the MSFC-manufactured Space Launch System (SLS) Orion Stage Adapter (OSA) structural test article (STA) and transport the hardware to Lockheed Martin in Colorado.

MSFC recently completed integrated structural testing on the OSA STA, along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA) STA, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) STA, and other SLS / Orion test components.

Brent Gaddes, NASA’s OSA Manager, explained that Lockheed, Orion‘s primary contractor, will use the OSA STA “for structural testing, for acoustic testing, [and for] . . . loadal testing that has to do with how it vibrates when it’s excited at certain frequencies,” to confirm the soundness of the spacecraft design.

The flight version of the OSA will connect the SLS Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) ICPS to the integrated Orion spacecraft / service module.

Gregory C. "Ray J" Johnson, retired astronaut and current Super Guppy pilot, speaks to media on July 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

Gregory C. “Ray J” Johnson, retired astronaut and current Super Guppy commander / pilot, speaks to media on July 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

The Super Guppy has a cargo compartment 25 feet (7.62 meters) in diameter and 111 feet (33.83 meters) long. The aircraft is capable of transporting up to 45,000 pounds (20,412 kilograms). However, its most unique feature is a hinged nose that can swing open up to 110 degrees, allowing frontal loading. A lock and disconnect system at the fuselage “break” allows the nose to be opened and closed without disrupting the flight / engine controls.

Retired astronaut Gregory C. “Ray J” Johnson, a member of the STS-125 crew, and current Super Guppy commander / pilot, explained some of the difficulties in flying the aircraft: “Guppy has no autopilot. One pilot flies for an hour, and the other pilot flies for an hour, and then you switch off and eventually land it. Very high stick forces. Frankly, quite a beast to land in crosswinds, so a lot of effort is done in the landing phase.”

Flying the aircraft can be “fatiguing and tiring,” stated Tom Ryan, also a Super Guppy pilot, “Sometimes it’s dancing with a lady and other times it’s wrestling a dragon.”

SLS is NASA’s new super-heavy-lift launch vehicle, which, among other capabilities, will carry astronauts to orbit in the Orion spacecraft for missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Its first flight, EM-1, an uncrewed flight around the Moon, is expected to take place in 2019.

For more photos of the Super Guppy in Huntsville, click here.

Video courtesy of NASA

 

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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.

Reader Comments

Laurence Klein

From the article on the Super Guppy on Wikipedia, it appears that it is ultimately developed from the legendary B-29 of World War II fame, though hardly recognizable as such, and thus the last form of B-29 in U.S. Government service.

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