The biggest rocket stage NASA has ever built for the world’s most powerful rocket is taking shape in the Rocket City. The people making it happen say they may even be ahead of schedule.
Part of the Space Launch System, the rocket that’s going to Mars, was just put into the 20-story tall test stand. What’s known as the core stage, the test liquid hydrogen tank for the SLS, is now being wired into the test stand. That’s where it’ll be tested to survive the eight million pounds of thrust it will have to bear to shoot out of our atmosphere.
“The transportation and installation of this was a significant endeavor,” said Sam Stephens, the structural test lead. “Half a million gallon capacity in that tank. It weighs a hundred thousand pounds.”
The sheer size of the parts may be the biggest challenge. The SLS test stand is more than 200 feet tall and the rocket will be more than 300 feet tall.
In 2020 the SLS and the Orion Spacecraft will shoot 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Then in 2023 the first people will get on board to fly around the moon. Finally in the 2030’s it will be ‘destination Mars’ for astronauts.
“We’ve been working on designs for so long but to actually get the hardware up here and start working with it, it’s incredibly rewarding,” Stephens said.
The test will finally happen towards the end of May. Working on a project this big, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day details.
“But stepping back from time to time and realizing what we’re doing here is enabling us to get back into space, go beyond low-earth orbit to the moon and beyond is just incredibly satisfying,” Stephens said.
On course to blaze the trail across the universe, he says they’re right on schedule. A test on one of the SLS engines just fired up Wednesday in Mississippi.
The test core stage arrived at the Marshall Space Flight Center during the government shutdown, but they still worked to get it set up and weren’t put behind schedule.