Boeing and NASA are gearing up for another round of testing at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., after offloading the Space Launch System (SLS) engine section structural test article, which recently was shipped by barge from New Orleans.
NASA’s SLS is the world’s most powerful rocket needed for a new era of exploration beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space. Boeing is building the core of the heavy-lift rocket in New Orleans. Hardware testing will be carried out in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida at NASA directorates. At 212-feet long, the core stage is the largest rocket stage in the world, manufactured by six new robotic tools installed at MAF.
The engine section will undergo structural testing to be sure the hardware can withstand the force of two solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines that will be attached and fired up at launch. Together, the boosters and engines will provide 8.8 million pounds of thrust at lift-off.
Three other parts of the Michoud-built core stage (intertank, liquid hydrogen tank, and liquid oxygen tank) will be shipped later for structural tests at MSFC. NASA completed major construction on the test stands for the core stage liquid hydrogen tank and the liquid oxygen tanks earlier this year, and construction on the intertank test structure is almost complete.
The SLS core stage being built now by Boeing will provide fuel, structure, avionics and other functions for all SLS configurations. To provide the fuel needed to propel SLS to orbit, the rocket has the largest rocket stage ever built—with two tanks holding 733,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. This stage consists of five major parts assembled in this order from top to bottom: the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen propellant tank, the intertank, the liquid hydrogen propellant tank, and the engine section. The stage is being manufactured with innovative robotic friction stir welding machines at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
The SLS first launch will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft 40,000 miles beyond the moon, farther than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled.
The second SLS configuration (known as Block IB) expands the capability to launch more than 105 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 41 metric tons to the moon and a volume nearly equivalent to four tractor trailers (400m3). SLS heavy-lift capability is essential to carry large cargo and crew farther away from Earth than humans have ever traveled and provide faster trips to deep space.