The rocket is intended to be the first to transport astronauts to the Moon, but before the SLS can be approved for crewed spaceflight, it has to go through a number of stringent structural stress tests. One such test made the rocket’s liquid oxygen tanks fail, causing it to break and erupt.
Until now, NASA engineers have carried out almost 200 tests on the SLS, with the latest taking place on June 24th at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, US.
John Honeycutt, SLS program manager, said: “The Space Launch System and Marshall test team have done a tremendous job of accomplishing this test program, marking a major milestone not only for the SLS Program but also for the Artemis program. From building the test stands, support equipment, and test articles to conducting the tests and analyzing the data, it is remarkable work that will help send astronauts to the Moon.”
NASA’s Most Powerful Rocket
For the final test, NASA experts have allegedly worked the 70 feet tall and 28 feet wide liquid oxygen tank beyond expectations. The reservoir was bolted to a 185,000lbs steel ring where millions of pounds of pressure were hydraulically exerted to it from all sides. The pressure made the rocket rupture along its weld lines, throwing water around.
According to NASA, the buckling took place within two percent of the predicted failure value; simply put, the explosion was a success for the space agency. Data gathered during the stress tests will help improve tank designs and prove the SLS’ readiness to fly.
As part of the Artemis program, NASA intends to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon’s south pole. Once ready, the SLS will be the space agency’s most powerful rocket, overthrowing the Saturn V vehicle used during the Apollo era.