NASA begins construction of SLS core stage mock-up
NASA has begun theprocess of constructing a mock-up of the vast core section of itsplanned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The simulated core willserve as a practice tool for NASA prior to the 2018 launch of theSLS, which the agency hopes will move mankind one step closer toundertaking a manned mission to Mars.
The SLS, to be launched in 2018, will be the first of three generations of the next-generation launch system planned for operational service. However allthree iterations will use the same core structure.
The test core willmeasure 213 ft (65 m) in length, boasting the same proportions as amission-ready Block 1 core stage, and will be used to trial thelogistical side of launching what will be the most powerful rocketever constructed. It will mimic the fuselage of the core segment, aswell as the shape of the four RS-25 liquid fuel engines housed at thebottom of the main stage segment.
"We don't want thefirst time we transport the core stage to be with flight hardware," states Shane Carpenter, lead engineer for the project at NASA'sMarshall Space Flight Center. "That's why having a pathfinderis critical to the program."
As well as allowingNASA to hone the transportation aspect of launching the SLS, the230,000-lb (104,326-kg) steel mock-up will provide an opportunity forthe agency to simulate final assembly of the core and a lift-offscenario.
The fabrication of thetest stage will be relatively cheap, as it will lack the costlypropulsion and avionics hardware to be integrated with a completedrocket. In reality, it'll be little more than a shell.
Once completed, thecore will be moved to the Michoud Assembly Facility in NewOrleans. The complex is currently playing host to the construction ofthe actual SLS core to be used as part of Exploration Mission 1,which will put NASA's next generation Orion spacecraft through itspaces on the far side of the Moon.
In order to prepare forthe arrival of the mock SLS, NASA has been forced to undergo acomprehensive overhaul of a selection of its launch infrastructure.One of the planned modifications includes enlarging the agency'sPegasus barge, which will be responsible for transporting the corestage of the leviathan rocket from the production facility part ofthe way to its launch site, from 260 ft (79 m) to 310 ft (94 m).
In order to ensure thatthe trip is as smooth as possible for the flight ready hardware, thetest article will be loaded onto the Pegasus barge and transported toStennis Space Center, Mississippi, and then on to the Kennedy SpaceFlight Center, Florida, in order to test upgrades made to the VehicleAssembly Building.
The SLS core simulatoris expected to be completed and ready for testing in 2017.