Design Engineering

NASA tests world’s most powerful rocket


Quality Aerospace NASA rocket Testing

Each part of SLS rocket must undergo numerous tests to ensure it's been designed, manufactured and integrated to withstand the stresses of launch.

Before launching the world’s most powerful rocket into space, it must undergo rigorous testing.  NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket components are being put to the test to ensure they have been designed, manufactured and integrated to withstand the stresses of launch.

The space agency recently completed a major test series on hardware for the upper part of the rocket.
NASA testing

The liquid hydrogen tank structural qualification test article is being prepared for shipping to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for testing later in 2017. Credits: NASA/MSFC Michoud image: Judy Guidry.

The testing is conducted at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The rocket’s core stage engine section is currently on-route to the testing facility for its qualification test series. The engine section is the first of four core stage test articles manufactured and is designed to the specifications needed for launch.

These tests put the SLS rocket that much closer to being launched into outer space.

In addition to shipping the completed engine structural test article this month, the liquid hydrogen tank structural test article manufacturing is also complete. It is being equipped before heading to Marshall for testing later this year. Finally, the flight intertank structural assembly is also nearly finished and will soon undergo application of thermal protection systems.


There have been some challenges along with way, specifically with the liquid oxygen tank test article. During recent manufacturing, the rear or aft dome was inadvertently damaged in pre-weld preparations. This occurred before the dome was welded to the rest of the test article.

NASA and Boeing formed independent mishap investigation teams to evaluate the incident. No personnel were injured, and assessments are ongoing to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“Small things from the tiniest screws to each weld matter,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program manager at Marshall. “Our engineers are learning as we work with Boeing to tackle challenges from aligning robotic weld machines off by as little as the width of a paperclip to addressing the fact that tiny threads on welding pins affect weld strength. We’re working together to ensure critical flight hardware is handled safely in the factory and as it is moved thousands of miles by ships, trains, and planes.”

NASA and Boeing, the agency’s prime contractor for SLS, have done extensive work to develop weld parameters and processes for making the first-of-their-kind large fuel tanks.


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