NASA Motor Test Helps Evaluate New SLS Materials

A test firing with a 24-inch solid rocket booster on Aug. 6 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will help engineers evaluate a new cleaning solvent for Space Launch System (SLS) booster nozzles. Tests with the smaller motor segment provides data so that engineers can determine if the new material warrants further pursuit for use on future SLS rockets. (NASA/Tyson Eason)

Every detail that goes into space exploration matters. While habitat design or making sure a rocket is powerful enough to launch supplies are obviously important, what may be less apparent are the smaller things, including the solvents used in manufacturing materials for spaceflight.

On Aug. 6, a 22-second hot fire test in the East Test Area at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, helped NASA and Northrop Grumman Corporation in Promontory, Utah – the solid rocket booster prime contractor – evaluate a new nozzle material for the Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket boosters. These boosters produce more than 75 percent of the power to launch the rocket.

The nozzle construction enables the boosters to provide consistent performance while withstanding the 5,000 degree Fahrenheit flame produced as the solid fuel is burned to launch the rocket.  Such material changes are checked out in phases from sub-scale to full-scale tests and this 24-inch motor was a significant step in that process. Using a 24-inch-diameter, 20-foot-long sub-scale test motor that burned nearly 1,800 pounds of propellant and produced 23,000 pounds of thrust, the team collected data to help verify use of the solvent on future SLS flights beyond Artemis III.

“This 24-inch motor test is to evaluate the material in a solid rocket motor environment and make sure that we don’t get any unexpected changes in how it performs,” said Tim Lawrence, manager for motor and booster separation motor systems at Marshall.

While the solid rocket boosters that will be used on NASA’s Space Launch System – which this test supports – are 177 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter, the motor used in the test is still large enough to produce valuable data.

“This booster is only 24-inches but the ability to fire it in a test stand helps us get the data we need to confirm that we want to test it in a larger, full-scale test,” Dennis Strickland, the test conductor said.

In addition to data about the solvent’s effects on the material during motor operation, engineers also collected information about its behavior during booster assembly.

“The 24-inch motor is large enough that we were able to use the same processes to manufacture the nozzle as are used on the full-scale motor and that gives us confidence it will provide a good indication of full-scale performance,” Lawrence explained.

While the verification test was to primarily support the SLS rocket, the test data may also be used by other government agencies to help advance their solid rocket propulsion technology as NASA and the agencies routinely share data with other government agencies and industry. Data sharing enhances capabilities and maximizes the return on investment for the taxpayer.

NASA’s SLS booster is based on three decades of knowledge and experience gained with the space shuttle boosters and has been updated with the latest technology. The agency is working to design, develop, and test next-generation boosters that will power SLS flights after all available shuttle-era hardware is expended. NASA has cast segments for the Artemis I and Artemis II lunar missions, the first two SLS flights, and has begun casting the Artemis III mission. Northrop Grumman delivered the segments for Artemis I to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 15.

SLS and the Orion spacecraft, along with the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration and the Artemis program, which will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon on a single mission.

Four Down, Four to Go: Artemis I Rocket Moves Closer to Hot Fire Test

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is completing the Green Run test for the rocket’s core stage, shown installed on the top left side of the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Credits: NASA/Stennis

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage for the Artemis I lunar mission has successfully completed its first four Green Run tests and is building on those tests for the next phase of checkout as engineers require more capability of the hardware before hot-firing the stage and its four powerful engines.

On Aug. 5, engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St Louis, Mississippi, where the stage is loaded into the B-2 Test Stand, completed the fourth of eight planned tests of the 212-foot-tall core stage. For Test 4, engineers performed the initial functional checkout of the main propulsion system components to verify command and control operability (valve response, timing, etc.) and performed leak checks on the core stage-to-facility umbilical fluid and gas connections.

Green Run is a demanding series of eight tests and nearly 30 firsts: first loading of the propellant tanks, first flow through the propellant feed systems, first firing of all four engines, and first exposure of the stage to the vibrations and temperatures of launch.

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First Pieces of Future Gateway Living Quarters

The first pieces of flight hardware for Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) have arrived at Thales Alenia Space Italy (TASI) sent by NASA’s HALO contractor Northrop Grumman. These forgings are the base metal that is used to create the pressure shell, barrel sections, and interface rings for HALO. The manufacturing process is based on the same process employed by TASI in support of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, which is currently being used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. HALO will be the initial pressurized living quarters where astronauts spend their time during expeditions aboard the orbiting Gateway. About the size of a small studio apartment, it can support a crew of four for up to 30 days when NASA’s Orion spacecraft is docked to the Gateway.

Learn more about Gateway.

Key Connection for Artemis I Arrives at Kennedy

Technicians with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems move the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on July 30, 2020, for processing.

The second to last piece of hardware for the Artemis I test flight around the Moon has arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) connects the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the upper stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. The cone-shaped connector also helps protect the RL10 engine housed in the upper stage, which will provide the power necessary to leave Earth’s orbit and send the Orion spacecraft on its journey to the Moon.

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NASA Teams Load Artemis I Rocket Hardware on Barge for Trip to Kennedy

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s launch vehicle stage adapter. Credits: NASA/Fred Deaton

Teams at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, moved the Artemis I launch vehicle stage adapter for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket onto the agency’s Pegasus barge July 17.

The adapter is the cone shaped piece that connects the rocket’s core stage and interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS). Pegasus will transport the flight hardware to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be integrated with other parts of the rocket in preparation for launch.

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Heat Shield Milestone for First Artemis Mission with Crew

Image Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently finished meticulously applying more than 180 blocks of ablative material to the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft set to carry astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II.

The heat shield is one of the most critical elements of Orion and protects the capsule and the astronauts inside from the nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, about half as hot at the Sun, experienced during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere when coming home from lunar velocities.

Prior to installation, several large blocks of the ablative material called AVCOAT were produced at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. They were then shipped to Kennedy and machined into 186 unique smaller blocks before being applied by the technicians onto the heat shield’s underlying titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin.

To continue preparing the heat shield, engineers will conduct non-destructive evaluations to look for voids in the bond lines, as well as measure the steps and gaps between the blocks. The gaps will be filled with adhesive material and then reassessed. The heat shield will then undergo a thermal test after which it will be sealed, painted and then taped to help weather on-orbit thermal conditions. Once all testing has been completed, later this year the heat shield will be installed and bolted to the crew module.

NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Orion, along with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Human Landing System and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Artemis II will be the first crewed mission of Orion atop the SLS rocket.

NASA Pins Down First Step in SLS Stacking for Artemis I

Inside the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Payton Jones, at left, a launch vehicle processing technician, and Bradley Bundy, a spaceflight technician, both with Jacobs, complete the first mate pinning of the right-hand motor segment to the right-hand aft skirt on one of the two solid rocket boosters for the agency’s Space Launch System. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

About a dozen technicians and engineers from Exploration Ground Systems worked together recently at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to carry out the first step in stacking the twin solid rocket boosters that help launch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the first Artemis lunar mission.

Inside the Florida spaceport’s Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility, the NASA and Jacobs team completed a pin. The pinning activity involved using bolts to attach one of five segments that make up one of two solid rocket boosters for SLS to the rocket’s aft skirt. A crane crew assisted in mating the aft segments to the rocket’s two aft skirts.

A handful of the team members gained pinning experience on boosters for the space shuttle, while the rest were first-time pinners. Pablo Martinez, Jacobs TOSC handling, mechanical and structures engineer, inserted the first of 177 pins per joint to complete the first official step in stacking the SLS boosters.

The next step is a move to Kennedy’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building to await stacking on the mobile launcher.

Manufactured by Northrop Grumman in Utah, the 177-foot-tall twin boosters provide more than 75 percent of the total SLS thrust at launch. SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.

The SLS rocket will launch NASA’s Orion spacecraft and send it to the Moon for Artemis I — a mission to test the two as an integrated system, leading up to human missions to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.

View a video of booster segment mate pinning.

Exploration is a team sport

Kathy Lueders visits the Rotation, Surge and Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the solid rocket boosters for the Space Launch System rocket are currently being processed.

Today is my first day fully transitioned as the head of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and I am honored to lead a new era of human spaceflight.

You’ll hear me say this time and time again: exploration is a team sport. I saw that in low-Earth orbit with NASA, industry and our international partners, and it is critical to accomplishing the goals ahead for the Artemis program.

I’ve spent most of my 28 years at NASA focused on exploration 250 miles off the Earth, including most recently overseeing the Commercial Crew Program. We took a risk with industry by encouraging commercial innovation in a new market with the end goal of government becoming a customer of low-Earth orbit services, hopefully one of many. We tested that approach first with cargo deliveries, and now we are doing it again with crew.

I’m optimistic about industry’s ability to lead a private space economy in low-Earth orbit, one where NASA achieves our goal of being a regular customer. That frees us up to focus on human exploration farther in the universe including the Moon and Mars.

Just as sending cargo and humans to the space station are separate challenges, sending cargo and humans to the Moon and beyond are also different. Each requires significantly more risk and separate requirements. The responsibility of human life I am entrusted with as part of NASA has been at the front of my mind every step of the way with commercial crew and is as much so today as we prepare to push the boundaries of human exploration.

Built specifically for deep space missions, I am confident NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are the only rocket and spacecraft capable of meeting our aggressive goal of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon in four years.

Orion is complete and SLS is on track for its last major test later this year before flight. These systems will be integrated early next year and launched together for the first time on an uncrewed flight test around the Moon in 2021 followed by a test flight with crew around the Moon in 2023.

Again, exploration is a team sport, and we are not going into deep space alone. We have prioritized commercial innovation in our plans to return to the Moon. In 2024, NASA will send astronauts on the Artemis III mission to lunar orbit where they will transfer to a commercial human landing system for an expedition to the lunar surface. These modern landers will be capable of docking to Orion or the Gateway, which will be operational by 2024. Built by commercial partners with planned additions from international partners, the Gateway is critical to enabling sustainable lunar operations by the end of the decade and missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.

The universe is vast and there’s room for all the players on our team. Expanding human presence into the solar system depends on our combined efforts to enable every aspect from our satellite communications network, to research on astronaut health and performance. Whether we work in science, technology or human spaceflight at NASA, the private sector or elsewhere in the world, we will achieve more when we work together.

As I move into this new chapter in my professional life, I’m excited for the many firsts to come – the first operational commercial flights to the space station. The first commercial lunar payload delivery. The first woman on the Moon. The first commercial lunar landers. The Gateway. And the many unknown scientific discoveries ahead. Mostly, I’m excited though because I know we’re all in this together. One team for all of humanity.

Now, let’s get to work!

-Kathy Lueders

Artemis II Orion Stage Adapter Taking Shape

Technicians at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, move panels for the Artemis II Orion stage adapter to a large robotic, welding machine.

Three panels for the Artemis II Orion stage adapter were built by AMRO Fabricating Corp. in South El Monte, California and shipped to Marshall where engineers and technicians from NASA are joining them using a sophisticated friction-stir welding process to form the Orion stage adapter. This critical part of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will send the Artemis II crew into lunar orbit. AMRO also built panels for the Artemis II launch vehicle stage adapter also currently being built at Marshall and the SLS core stage and the Orion crew module built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. All panels where joined with the same friction-stir welding process. The Artemis I Orion stage adapter, also built at Marshall, has been delivered to Kennedy Space Center where it will be stacked with the rest of the SLS rocket components.  The adapter connects the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, the rocket’s upper stage that sends Orion to the Moon, to the Orion spacecraft. The Orion stage adapter has space for small payloads; on Artemis I it will transport 13 small satellites to deep space where they can study everything from asteroids to the Moon and radiation. SLS, the world’s most powerful rocket, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit.