Thursday, March 30, 2017

Space Launch System (SLS)

SLS, The Next Giant Leap

SLS Space Launch System
Exciting developments at NASA! All images courtesy of NASA.
After years of stagnation, the US Space Program is showing some signs of life again.

SLS Space Launch System
The bottom stage alone dwarfs a human. All images courtesy of NASA.
The Space Launch System (SLS) now is undergoing testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

SLS Space Launch System
Testing involves placing stresses on the components. All images courtesy of NASA.
The SLS will pair with the Orion spacecraft to give NASA the ability to get men and women outside of low earth orbit again after an interregnum of almost 50 years.

SLS Space Launch System
Adapters are the key to the SLS. All images courtesy of NASA.
Testing at Marshall is at a serious stage. Engineers have stacked four qualification articles of the upper part of SLS into a 65-foot-tall test stand using more than 3,000 bolts to hold the hardware together. Stress is being applied to make sure the apparatus will withstand the impact of liftoff, space flight, and a return to earth.

SLS Space Launch System
The four different stages are massive. All images courtesy of NASA.
The integrated tests are on four different components that are all connected:
  1. Launch Vehicle Adapter
  2. Frangible Joint Assembly
  3. Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage
  4. Orion Stage Adapter
Seriously, they should consider getting a better name for the Frangible Joint Assembly. I know, the engineers don't know from catchy names. Still, if you are going to spend so much money on fancy videos, why not spend five minutes of brainpower on assigning key components with something more interesting than "Frangible Joint Assembly.

SLS Space Launch System
Testing is underway on the different SLS parts. All images courtesy of NASA.
To provide a safety margin, the tests apply stresses of 40% greater than those expected in actual space flight. The stresses are applied by dozens of load pistons.

SLS Space Launch System
The craft breaks apart during the mission. All images courtesy of NASA.
It is a complicated spacecraft. Just like with ordinary plumbing that connects different sizes of pipes, the setup requires adapters to fit together the different parts of the craft. The Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, LVSA, connects the SLS core stage and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, ICPS. 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. The frangible joint, located between the LVSA and ICPS, is used to separate the two pieces of hardware during flight, allowing the ICPS to provide the thrust to send Orion onto its mission.

The SLS roughly is the size of the Saturn V. All images courtesy of NASA.
Another adapter is the Orion Stage Adapter. This connects the Orion spacecraft to the ICPS. It is 4.8 feet tall, with a 16.8-foot bottom diameter and 18-foot top diameter.

SLS Space Launch System
The SLS looks a bit like the Space Shuttle booster. All images courtesy of NASA.
The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will push Orion beyond the moon before it returns to Earth on the projected first flight of SLS in 2018. This test series aims to simulate that flight. The fuel tanks are filled with non-flammable liquid nitrogen and pressurized with gaseous nitrogen to simulate flight conditions. The nitrogen is chilled to the same temperature as the oxygen and hydrogen under launch conditions.

SLS Space Launch System
The objective is to finally get beyond low Earth orbit again. All images courtesy of NASA.
The first integrated flight for SLS and Orion in 2018 will allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test systems farther from Earth. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate that Orion can get to a stable orbit in the area of space near the moon. This is a necessary prerequisite to send humans deeper into space. Once this is accomplished, a voyage to Mars becomes a real possibility, perhaps by the 2030s.

SLS Space Launch System
The SLS is nearing completion for actual use. All images courtesy of NASA.
We wish NASA the best in this project. The future of the US Space Program in the 21st Century depends upon it.

Orion already is at an advanced stage of testing, but Orion is useless without the SLS to take it where it needs to go.


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