Wednesday, October 19, 2016
NASA / Joel Kowsky
NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough, Crewmates Launch to Space Station to Continue Research (Press Release)
Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:05 a.m. EDT Wednesday (2:05 p.m. Baikonur time).
The Soyuz spacecraft carrying astronaut Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, is scheduled to dock to the Poisk module of the space station at 5:59 a.m. Friday, Oct. 21. NASA Television coverage of docking will begin at 5:15 a.m. Hatches are scheduled to open about 8:35 a.m., with NASA TV coverage starting at 8 a.m.
The arrival of Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko returns the station's crew complement to six. The three join Expedition 49 Commander Anatoli Ivanishin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineers Kate Rubins of NASA and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The Expedition 49 crew members will spend a little over four months conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late February. Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi will return to Earth Oct. 30.
The Expedition 49 crew will welcome a variety of cargo deliveries to the space station, including Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, which launched Monday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the orbital laboratory Sunday, Oct. 23, with more than 5,100 pounds of science and research equipment, as well as crew supplies and hardware.
Included in the Cygnus shipment are payloads that will study fires in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.
A Japanese cargo craft is scheduled to deliver new lithium ion batteries in December to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used to store electrical energy generated by the station’s solar arrays. The crew members also are scheduled to receive SpaceX’s 10th commercial resupply ship and two Russian Progress resupply missions delivering several tons of food, fuel, supplies and research.
For more than 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the space station to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that also will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A truly global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
NASA Space Station Cargo Launches from Virginia on Orbital ATK Resupply Mission (Press Release)
The crew of the International Space Station soon will be equipped to perform dozens of new scientific investigations with cargo launched Monday aboard NASA’s latest commercial resupply services mission from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft lifted off at 7:45 p.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A on the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket carrying more than 5,100 pounds of cargo. Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the space station Sunday, Oct. 23. Expedition 49 astronauts Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Kate Rubins of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6 a.m.
This is the first flight on the upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle, and the first launch from Wallops since an Antares rocket and its Cygnus spacecraft were lost in October 2014. It’s also the third flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft featuring a greater payload capacity, supported by new fuel tanks and UltraFlex solar arrays.
“It’s great to see launches to the International Space Station happening again from the Virginia coast – and it shows what can be accomplish with a close partnership of federal and state agencies, along with the U.S. industry, all working together,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
The cargo aboard the Cygnus will support dozens of new and existing investigations as the space station crews of Expeditions 49 and 50 contribute to about 250 science and research studies. The new experiments include studies on fire in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.
Low-temperature fires with no visible flames are known as cool flames. In previous combustion experiments aboard the space station, researchers observed cool flame burning behaviors not predicted by models or earlier investigations. The Cool Flames Investigation examines low-temperature combustion of droplets of a variety of fuels and additives in low gravity. Data from this investigation could help scientists develop more efficient advanced engines and new fuels for use in space and on Earth.
The Lighting Effects investigation tests a new lighting system aboard the station designed to enhance crew health and keep their body clocks in proper sync with a more regular working and resting schedule. The system uses adjustable light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a dynamic lighting schedule that varies the intensity and spectrum of the LEDs in tune with sleep and wake schedules. Research has shown that enhancing certain types of light can improve alertness and performance while other types can promote better sleep.
A user-friendly tablet app provides astronauts with a new and faster way to collect a wide variety of personal data. The EveryWear investigation tests use of a French-designed technology to record and transmit data on nutrition, sleep, exercise and medications. EveryWear has potential for use in science experiments, biomedical support and technology demonstrations.
Astronauts aboard the space station are exposed to space radiation that can reduce immune response, increase cancer risk, and interfere with electronics. The Fast Neutron Spectrometer investigation will help scientists understand high-energy neutrons, part of the radiation exposure experienced by crews during spaceflight, by studying a new technique to measure electrically neutral neutron particles.
The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until November before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of about 3,000 pounds of trash.
The space station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the station. The orbiting lab remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance and the Boeing Company Unveil the Atlas V Configuration for the CST-100 Starliner Crew Capsule (Press Release - October 13)
ULA’s Atlas V will Provide Safe and Reliable Transportation for Starliner to the International Space Station
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2016) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) and The Boeing Company today unveiled an updated aerodynamic configuration of the Atlas V that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule for NASA after encountering unique challenges with aerodynamic stability and loads.
This new configuration incorporates an aeroskirt aft of the spacecraft, extending the Starliner Service Module cylindrical surface to improve the aerodynamic characteristics of the integrated launch configuration and bring loads margins back to acceptable flight levels.
“Through incredible coordination and continued innovative thinking, the collective team of NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance completed three wind tunnel tests in six months to investigate the aerodynamic stability of various configurations and to anchor our analytical predictions. Based on that information, we updated the configuration for the Atlas V Starliner integrated vehicle stack,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Services. “This configuration is unique because it combines the Atlas V launch vehicle without a payload fairing with Boeing’s Starliner capsule, resulting in different aerodynamic interactions.”
The aeroskirt is a metallic orthogrid structure designed to be jettisoned for improved performance. In the unlikely event that an emergency occurs during boost phase of flight, the aeroskirt has venting provisions to control over-pressurization if the Starliner’s abort engines are fired. Fabrication of the aeroskirt is scheduled to begin this month at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama, following completion of a Production Readiness Review.
"Our testing indicates the solution we chose will sufficiently smooth the air flow around the vehicle during ascent, ensuring crew safety and mission success," said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program.
The ULA team completed the aeroskirt Preliminary Design Review earlier this month. The Atlas V with Starliner has a planned uncrewed flight test in 2018 with operational missions to follow.
“We look forward to our continued partnership with Boeing and NASA to ensure mission success and safety for American astronauts flying from U.S. soil on the Atlas V Starliner,” said Wentz.
With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 110 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.
Source: United Launch Alliance
Thursday, October 13, 2016
NASA Shakes Up Orion Test Article for the Journey to Mars (News Release)
How do you know if a spacecraft can hold up to the intense vibrations of launching atop the world’s most powerful rocket? You shake it on the world’s most powerful vibration table.
Engineers at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio recently finished a series of tests on a full-size test version of Orion’s service module to verify that it can withstand the vibrations it will experience when it launches and travels into space atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
The 13-ton service module is an essential part of the spacecraft. It will propel, power and cool Orion in addition to providing air and water for the crew.
“We’re making sure that the structure on the service module will survive the extremely strong vibrations of launch and ascent on the journey to space,” said Nicole Smith, project manager for the Orion testing at Plum Brook.
NASA’s SLS rocket will produce more than eight million pounds of thrust during launch, and like all spacecraft Orion will get a good shaking during ascent. Although NASA has designed Orion and its service module to endure launch and ascent vibrations as Orion travels into space, testing on the ground helps to verify those designs before the mission.
Earlier this summer, the service module test article was placed on a mechanical vibration table in Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility. At 22-feet wide and 55,000-pounds, the table is the world’s most powerful spacecraft shaker system. Engineers ran a total of 98 vibration tests throughout the summer.
“We needed to see the different ways the service module would dynamically perform during launch when the tanks are full and then later in the mission after it has used some of that propellant,” Smith said.
The test vibration levels started as low as 2.5 Hz and swept up to 100 Hz.
“We eased into it,” said Jerry Carek, the facility manager. “We started at about 20 percent of the maximum test level and gradually worked our way up to 100 percent with vertical movement. Then we did the same thing with lateral movement.”
The vibration tests were part of a series of crucial checks being performed at the Space Power Facility to verify the service module for Orion’s first flight atop SLS, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, which will venture tens of thousands of miles beyond the moon.
The test article’s next stop is the assembly high bay area, where engineers will fire pyrotechnics to simulate the shocks the service module will experience as Orion separates from the SLS rocket.
The test article was provided by ESA (European Space Agency) and built by Airbus Defence & Space. As these ground tests continue to verify the service module’s design, the first flight unit service module for EM-1 is now being built in Europe. This unit is expected to be shipped to the United States in 2017.
EM-1 is targeted to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late 2018. Orion will take crew farther in space than they’ve ever gone before and plays an essential role as part of NASA’s preparation for the Journey to Mars. The spacecraft will carry astronauts to space, provide emergency abort capabilities, sustain the crew during their mission and provide safe re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
NASA / MSFC / Brian Massey
The Pressure is On for SLS Hardware in Upcoming Test (News Release)
Engineers are getting ready to put the pressure on hardware for the world's most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System, as part of a rigorous test series to ensure each structure can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. SLS and the agency’s Orion spacecraft will travel to new destinations in deep space as NASA continues to prepare for its Journey to Mars.
"Not only is this series more cost effective by testing several qualification articles together, but it also helps us to understand how the flight-like hardware will interface together," said Mike Roberts, mechanical team lead in the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
A 65-foot-tall test stand at Marshall is being readied for the upcoming test series, where two simulators and four qualification articles of the upper part of the SLS will be stacked and then pushed, pulled and twisted by forces similar to those experienced in flight. "We have to make sure all the hardware is structurally sound and will not compromise under the incredible amounts of force," said Dee VanCleave, lead test engineer for the structural loads test at Marshall. "The best way to verify these major structures are ready for launch is to test them."
The qualification articles and simulators will be stacked in order from bottom to top in a test structure with "spiders" – given that name because the hardware has 8-16 legs that span out from the center. The spider's design helps distribute the load evenly in the test stand. The pieces are:
- Core stage simulator -- a duplicate of the top of the SLS core stage that is approximately 10 feet tall and 27.5 feet in diameter. It was designed and built at Marshall.
- Launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) -- connects the SLS core stage and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS). The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS in 2018. The LVSA test hardware is 26.5 feet tall, with a bottom diameter of 27.5 feet and a top diameter of 16.8 feet. It was designed and built by prime contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville.
- Frangible joint assembly -- part of the separation system on the SLS. The flight version will have small explosive devices installed that will separate the ICPS from the rest of the rocket in space. Only the structural part of the frangible joint assembly is included for this test series. It was designed and built by The Boeing Co. in Huntsville and United Launch Alliance of Decatur.
- ICPS -- The qualification test article, without the engine, is around 29 feet tall and 16.8 feet in diameter. It will be filled with liquid nitrogen for testing, rather than liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. "Liquid nitrogen is the safest cryogenic media to use for testing," VanCleave said. The ICPS was designed and built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance.
- Orion stage adapter – connects the Orion to the ICPS. It is 4.8 feet tall, with a 16.8-foot bottom diameter and 18-foot top diameter. It was designed and built at Marshall. The adapter technology was used for Orion’s first test flight in December 2014.
- Orion spacecraft simulator – a replica of the bottom portion of the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The simulator also was designed and built at Marshall, and is 4.5 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter.
The qualification articles are almost exact to flight hardware specifications. The core stage simulator was loaded into the test stand Sept. 21, with the LVSA following on Oct. 12. The other three qualification articles and the Orion simulator will complete the stack later this fall. Testing is scheduled to begin in early 2017.
Ready, Set, Test
Approximately 50 test cases are planned for the series. The qualification test articles will be outfitted with 28 mechanical load lines, which will use hydraulic pressure to push and pull on the test articles. The ICPS tanks also will be filled with liquid nitrogen, which will subject the hardware to pressure as high as 56 pounds per square inch -- relative to atmospheric pressure. More than 170,000 pounds of liquid nitrogen will be used in the tanks for most of the load cases, and 500,000 pounds of axial hydraulic force will be applied to the entire test stack. Engineers will not test to failure for this series.
Data from the tests will be recorded through 1,900 instrumentation channels, measuring the strain on the test articles, temperature, deflection and other factors. The test data will be compared to computer models to verify the integrity of the hardware and ensure it can withstand the forces it will experience during flight. This also will be a type of practice run for assembly operations before the rocket hardware is stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of launch.
The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. A third configuration will add a pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide a 130-metric-ton (143-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.
NASA / MSFC / David Olive
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
New Shepard In-Flight Escape Test (Press Release)
On October 5, 2016, New Shepard performed an in-flight test of the capsule’s full-envelope escape system, designed to quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster. At T+0:45 and 16,053 feet (4,893 meters), the capsule separated and the escape motor fired, pushing the capsule safely away from the booster. Reaching an apogee of 23,269 feet (7,092 meters), the capsule then descended under parachutes to a gentle landing on the desert floor. After the capsule escape, the booster continued its ascent, reaching an apogee of 307,458 feet (93,713 meters). At T+7:29, the booster executed a controlled, vertical landing back at the West Texas Launch Site, completing its fifth and final mission.
Source: Blue Origin
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
NASA / MSFC / Emmett Given
Work Underway On Hardware That Will Do Double Duty On First SLS Flight (News Release)
David Osborne, an Aerie Aerospace LLC machinist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, takes measurements prior to the start of precision machining of the Orion stage adapter for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System. The adapter will connect the Orion spacecraft to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) for the first flight of SLS with Orion in late 2018. The ICPS is the liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the big, in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth. The adapter also will carry 13 CubeSats that will perform science and technology investigations that will help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the Journey to Mars.
The adapter's top surface will be machined completely flat on a seven-axis mill turntable before hundreds of holes are drilled in it for bolting to the rest of the rocket. To complete the same work on the other side of the adapter, the hardware will later be flipped using a Posi-Turner load rotation device and an assembly jig, the ring that connects the Posi-Turner to the bottom of the adapter and rotates it. The adapter will then undergo inspections, and a special coating will be added to the top and bottom of the structure to make it more corrosion resistant.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Earlier today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed the vehicle that his company will develop as it sets its sight on Mars. Known as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), this mega-rocket is designed to ferry a large capsule carrying at least 100 people to the Red Planet and beyond. Musk targets the mid-2020s as the timetable during which he plans to send humans to Mars...which would be at least 10 years faster than the date that NASA is eyeing to send crews to the Red Planet via Orion and the Space Launch System. But Musk isn't just settling for Mars; the ITS is intended to ferry homo sapiens even deeper into space—as shown with the illustrations below.
It will be a historic day when, not if, SpaceX's "Mars Vehicle" becomes a reality.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
NASA / MSFC
Key Senate Panel Approves Plan to Send Astronauts to Mars (Press Release)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A key Senate panel today unanimously approved a one-year spending plan for NASA that, for the first time, explicitly requires the space agency to send humans to Mars in the next quarter century.
The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), would give the space agency $19.5 billion for the next fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It would, among other things, require NASA to establish a human settlement on Mars and continue the commercial space industry’s development of a new American-made rocket to once again send American astronauts to and from the International Space Station without having to rely on Russia.
“55 years after President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon, the Senate is challenging NASA to put humans on Mars,” said Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees NASA. “The priorities that we’ve laid out for NASA in this bill marks the beginning of a new era of American spaceflight.”
The last time Congress passed a long-term authorization bill for NASA was in 2010. That bill, co-authored by Nelson and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), is the current blueprint from which NASA has been operating. It set NASA on a course to build a new monster rocket to carry the Orion crew capsule into deep space and, eventually, Mars. It also laid the groundwork for the development of a commercial space industry.
Nelson is hopeful that the bipartisan support this bill received will continue as the Senate begins work on a more comprehensive, multi-year blueprint for the agency next year.
Highlights of S. 3346:
Sustaining National Space Commitments and Utilizing the International Space Station
- Support for Continuity – Affirms Congress’ support for sustained space investments across presidential administrations to advance recent achievements in space exploration and space science. This includes the development of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and the Orion crew vehicle for deep space exploration, maximizing utilization of the International Space Station (ISS), the James Webb Space Telescope, and continued commitment to a national, government-led space program.
- International Space Station – Supports full and complete utilization of the ISS through at least 2024, and the use of private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments. Also facilitates the development of vehicles to transport astronauts from U.S. soil to end our reliance on Russian launches for crew transport.
- Facilitating Commercialization and Economic Development of Low-Earth Orbit – Requires NASA to submit a report to Congress outlining a plan to facilitate a transformation of operations in low-earth orbit from a model largely reliant on government support to one reflecting a more commercially-viable future.
. Advancing Human Deep Space Exploration
- Journey to Mars – Amends current law by adding human exploration of Mars as one of the goals and objectives of NASA and directs NASA to manage human space flight programs to enable humans to explore Mars and other destinations. Requires NASA to develop and submit a plan to Congress on a strategic framework and critical decision plan based on current technologies to achieve the exploration goals and objectives.
- Development of Deep Space Capabilities – Directs NASA to continue the development of the Space Launch System and Orion for a broad deep space mission set, with specific milestones for an uncrewed exploration mission by 2018 and a crewed exploration mission by 2021.
Medical Monitoring of Astronauts
- Medical Effects of Space – Authorizes NASA to provide for the medical monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of astronauts, including scientific and medical tests for psychological and medical conditions deemed by NASA to be associated with human space flight.
- Recognizing Impact of Scott Kelly’s 340 Days in Space – Gives recognition that the 340-day space mission of Scott Kelly aboard the ISS generated new insight into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation, and the stress of long-duration space flight and will help support the physical and mental well-being of astronauts during longer space exploration missions in the future.
Improving Cybersecurity and Maximizing Efficiency
- Improved Oversight of IT and Cybersecurity – Directs steps to improve agency-wide management and oversight over information technology operations and investments and information security programs for the protection of NASA systems, implementing a number of Office of Inspector General and GAO identified deficiencies. Requires the Administrator to ensure the NASA Chief Information Officer has a significant role in relevant management and oversight.
- Agency Cybersecurity Requirements – Requires the Administrator develop an agency-wide security plan to provide an overview of the requirements of NASA systems, identification of roles and responsibilities, and increased coordination among each center, facility, and mission directorate.
- Addressing Inefficiency – Improves inter-disciplinary collaboration and planning across NASA’s Mission Directorates to maximize outcomes for projects or missions.
Source: Bill Nelson - Senate.gov
Monday, September 19, 2016
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel
Piece by Piece: Building Space Launch System’s Core Stage (News Release)
The largest rocket stage in the world is coming together piece by piece at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Large elements for NASA's Space Launch System are in production and will be joined together to create the rocket's 212-foot-tall core stage, the backbone of the SLS rocket.
Why is NASA building the world’s most powerful rocket? Because SLS is ready to support both near-term missions in the proving ground around the moon starting in 2018, while at the same time being capable of carrying the very large hardware like landers, habitats and other supplies and equipment needed to explore Mars and other deep space destinations in the 2030s and beyond.
To power a Mars rocket, the core stage carries around 2.3 million pounds of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to fuel the four RS-25 engines. Engineers just completed welding the largest part of the core stage, the 130-foot-tall liquid hydrogen tank that will provide fuel for the first SLS flight in 2018, but there’s still work to ready the tank for its maiden voyage.
"Building the core stage is similar to building a house," said Joan Funk, SLS core stage lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "With the massive, welded elements coming off the Vertical Assembly Center at Michoud, we've laid the foundation, framed the walls and put up the roof. The big items are in place. Now it's time to get to work on the inside." That's where engineers will clean and prime each element before beginning the internal integration.
Michoud's Vertical Assembly Center, the largest spacecraft-welding tool in the world, is welding many of the core stage's main elements -- the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank, the liquid hydrogen tank and the engine section. The core stage's fifth element, the intertank, which is bolted, is also being built at Michoud. The Boeing Company, headquartered in Chicago, is the prime contractor building the core stage, but to build the stage, Boeing has worked with 442 businesses across America, including 297 small businesses.
“When welding is complete, these structures still have to go through more processing to turn them into functional parts of the rocket,” said Funk. “The core stage has parts with very different functions from housing the flight computer and primary avionics to holding the fuel to supporting the four RS-25 engines.”
The final manufacturing processes and outfitting for each part of the core stage varies with the section’s function. Wet structures -- elements that hold fuel, or the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks -- are put through "proof tests" to assure manufacturing quality. The liquid oxygen tank is hydrostatically tested and filled with water; and the liquid hydrogen tank is pneumatically tested.
After testing, the tanks and dry structures -- elements that don't hold fuel, or the forward skirt, intertank and engine section -- are cleaned, primed and readied for the "work on the inside." Much like a house being constructed, the core stage is outfitted with wiring, plumbing and insulation.
The dry structures house flight computers, cameras and avionics -- or the "brains" of the rocket. In a house, wiring can carry power or television and internet data from room to room. In the SLS's core stage, 45 miles of wire cabling serves a similar purpose, carrying power and data from element to element powering flight computers, cameras, sensors, avionics and other electronics housed in the dry structures.
The core stage's plumbing contains lines that deliver the propellant and oxidizer from the tanks to the engines. Each dry structure also contains purge vent lines and hazardous gas lines designed to eliminate dangerous gases building up in the dry structures prior to launch.
"The dry structures are cram-packed full of equipment and the domes of the tanks take up a lot of the room inside the dry structures," said Funk. Racks, cameras, sensors, vent lines, wire cabling, valves, shelves, couplings, and more fill the core stage's dry structures to near capacity. With every inch planned, equipment is mounted and wiring is placed methodically, accounting for time, space, accessibility and much more. When the dry structures are ready to be "stacked," or joined to the other elements, there isn't much room to spare.
Before the elements can be stacked, insulation -- which is more important to a rocket than to a house -- is applied. Not only does NASA's thermal protection system give the rocket its signature orange color, but more importantly, it protects the core stage from the extreme temperatures encountered during launch and maintains the fuels' extremely low temperatures. The liquid hydrogen is chilled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit and the liquid oxygen is chilled to minus 297 degrees.
How do those elements finally come together to form the 212-foot-long core stage? With the initial wiring, plumbing and insulation complete, the elements are divided into two sections for stacking. Each section is stacked vertically, with elements bolted to one another using segmented support rings welded to each element, providing stiffness. The liquid hydrogen tank sits atop the engine section to create the aft section, and the forward skirt and intertank are bolted to the top and bottom of the liquid oxygen tank to create the forward section.
When complete, engineers "break over" the sections, or move them to a horizontal position, for their final assembly. Final wiring, plumbing and insulation are installed after the forward section is joined to the aft to complete the core stage assembly.
Before punching its ticket to launch, the core stage will travel by barge to NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where it will undergo a free modal test to understand the structure then be mounted in the recently renovated B-2 Test Stand for propellant fill and drain testing and hot fire testing called a “green run.” A green run, or the first time the engines are assembled into a single configuration with the core stage and fired at nearly full-power, tests the compatibility and functionality of the system to ensure a safe and viable design.
Once post-test assessments and adjustments are complete, the core stage will travel again by barge to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for its first flight with Orion.
NASA / Michoud / Steven Seipel