The NASA rocket will be the first to carry astronauts back to the Moon since the retirement of the Apollo programme in 1972. But before the SLS can be committed to crewed spaceflight, the rocket has to go through a rigorous checklist of structural stress tests. One such test pushed the rocket’s liquid oxygen tanks to the point of failure, causing the tank to break and erupt.
To date, NASA engineers have completed almost 200 tests on the SLS.
The latest test was carried out on June 24 at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, US.
John Honeycutt, SLS programme manager, said: “The Space Launch System and Marshall test team have done a tremendous job of accomplishing this test program, marking a major milestone not only for the SLS Program but also for the Artemis program.
“From building the test stands, support equipment and test articles to conducting the tests and analyzing the data, it is remarkable work that will help send astronauts to the Moon.”
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For the final test, NASA pushed the 70ft tall and 28ft wide liquid oxygen tank beyond expectations.
The tank was bolted to a 185,000lbs steel ring where millions of pounds of pressure were hydraulically applied to it from all sides.
The pressure caused the rocket to rupture along its weld lines, spewing water as the tank buckled.
According to NASA, the buckling occurred within two percent of the predicted failure value.
In other words, the explosion was a big success for the US space agency.
Space Launch System and Marshall test team have done a tremendous job
John Honeycutt, SLS programme manager
Data collected during the stress test will help perfect tank designs as well as prove the SLS’s flight readiness.
A similar test was carried out in December 2019 on the SLS’ liquid hydrogen tank – watch it here.
The tank withstood an incredible 260 percent of expected flight load before exploding wide open.
All of these tests will ensure the safety of the next generation of astronauts who will return to the Moon starting in 2024.
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Under the guise of the Artemis programme, NASA aims to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon’s south pole.
Once completed, the SLS will be NASA’s most powerful rocket, surpassing the might of the Saturn V used during the Apollo era.
In its Block 1 configuration, the rocket will stand 332ft tall and weigh some 5.75 million lbs.
The SLS will launch its crews towards the Moon aboard an Orion capsule, catapulting the spacecraft into space at speeds of 24,500mph.
Ralph Carruth, Marshall’s test lab director, said: “The Marshall test lab team has worked closely with the Space Launch System Program to test the rocket’s structures from the top to bottom.
“After watching the test stands being built, working alongside SLS and Boeing engineers to establish testing procedures and conducting and gathering results of five structural qualifying tests, we are proud to contribute data shows these structures can withstand the rigours of flight.”
Julie Bassler, SLS stages manager, said: “This year is a landmark year for core stage testing for the Artemis missions.
“We have successfully completed our core stage major structural tests at Marshall Space Flight Center and are making progress on Green Run testing of the Artemis I core stage at Stennis Space Center that will simulate launch.
“All these tests are not only valuable for the first Artemis mission but also validates the new integrated design of the SLS core stage structure, propulsion and avionics systems and ensures its readiness for future flights.”
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