NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Programme is concluding its structural qualification test series with an upcoming final test that will push the design for the rocket’s liquid oxygen tank to its limits at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The liquid oxygen tank’s structure is identical to the tank that is part of the SLS core stage, which will provide power to help launch the Artemis missions to the Moon.

Hydraulic systems will apply millions of pounds of force to push, pull and bend the liquid oxygen tank test article to see how much pressure the tank can take. The forces simulate what the tank is expected to experience during launch and flight.

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Source: NASA

For the test, the tank will be filled with water to simulate the liquid oxygen propellant used for flight, and when the tank ruptures, the water may create a loud sound as it bursts through the tank’s skin.

“We take rocket tanks to extreme limits and break them because pushing systems to the point of failure gives us a data to help up build rockets more intelligently,” said Neil Otte, Chief Engineer for the SLS Stages Office at Marshall.

“Breaking the propellant tank today on Earth will provide us with valuable data for safely and efficiently flying SLS on the Artemis missions to the Moon.”

The test is the final in a series of structural qualification tests that have pushed the rocket’s structures to the limits from top to bottom to help ensure the rocket is ready for the Artemis lunar missions.

Completion of the upcoming test will mark a major milestone for the SLS Programme.

The Marshall team started structural qualification testing on the rocket in May 2017 with an integrated test of the upper part of the rocket stacked together: The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, the Orion stage adapter and the launch vehicle stage adapter.

Then the team moved on to testing the four largest structures that make up the 212-foot-tall core stage. The last baseline test for Artemis I was completed in March 2020 before the team’s access to Marshall was restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The NASA and Boeing team returned to work the first week in June to prepare for conducting the final liquid oxygen test to failure. 

Structural testing has been completed on three of the largest core stage structures: the engine section, the intertank, and the liquid hydrogen tank. The liquid oxygen tank has completed baseline testing and will now wrap up core stage testing with the upcoming test to find the tank’s point of failure.

“The liquid oxygen tests and the other tests to find the point of failure really put the hardware through the paces,” said April Potter, SLS Test Project Manager for Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Hydrogen Structural Tests. 

“NASA will now have the information to build upon our systems and push exploration farther than ever before.”