Space

NASA goes old school with SLS aerodynamic testing

NASA goes old school with SLS ...
NASA engineers adjust a 10 ft model of the SLS rocket prior to aerodynamic testing
NASA engineers adjust a 10 ft model of the SLS rocket prior to aerodynamic testing
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NASA engineers adjust a 10 ft model of the SLS rocket prior to aerodynamic testing
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NASA engineers adjust a 10 ft model of the SLS rocket prior to aerodynamic testing
A 10 ft model of the SLS is subjected to aerodynamic testing
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A 10 ft model of the SLS is subjected to aerodynamic testing
NASA graphic displaying the four configurations of the SLS rocket family
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NASA graphic displaying the four configurations of the SLS rocket family
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NASA is turning to a 56-year-old wind tunnel to put its next generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket through its aerodynamic paces. The model used in the test represents a cargo variant of the SLS that will stand slightly taller than the eventual first crewed version of the rocket, which will be tested during an unmanned mission in late 2018.

The SLS is being designed as a multi use launch vehicle, which will extend the capabilities of manned spaceflight beyond the limits of low-Earth orbit. Among other goals, the powerful launch system will make possible the first manned exploration of a near-Earth asteroid, and, alongside the agency's Orion spacecraft, will represent a vital element of NASA's grand ambition of placing mankind on Mars.

The SLS rocket family will eventually be available in four distinct configurations, allowing the launch system to cater for a wide range of crew and cargo transportation needs. The first and smallest configuration of the rocket, known as SLS Block 1, will launch in late 2018, catapulting an unmanned Orion spacecraft on the first step of its test mission to orbit the Moon.

NASA graphic displaying the four configurations of the SLS rocket family
NASA graphic displaying the four configurations of the SLS rocket family

For the recent aerodynamic tests, NASA looked beyond the rocket's maiden flight to test the qualities of the SLS 1B Cargo configuration. This 327 ft (99.6 m) tall manifestation of the SLS will boast an impressive lift capacity of 105-metric-tons (115-tons).

The ability to transport heavy payloads into space will allow NASA to operate in the area surrounding, and beyond, Earth's moon. This isolated yet accessible environment represents the perfect region in which to test technologies that will later be used in the journey to Mars.

However, prior to plunging a payload into the inhospitable environment of outer space, the SLS 1B will first have to survive a journey through Earth's dense lower atmosphere. To test the structural strength and aerodynamic qualities of the future SLS 1B, NASA placed a 10 ft (3.4 m) model of the rocket inside its venerated Transonic Dynamics Tunnel, located at the agency's Langley Research Center in Virginia.

A 10 ft model of the SLS is subjected to aerodynamic testing
A 10 ft model of the SLS is subjected to aerodynamic testing

The model was fitted with 446 miniature microphones, and subjected to transonic wind speeds in an attempt to simulate a high-velocity journey through Earth's lower atmosphere.

"Just below supersonic is where shock waves begin to form on the vehicle and can dance and oscillate on the rocket," explained Langley rocket scientist Dave Piatak. "The first step of these missions is safely getting above Earth's atmosphere and into orbit."

As the faux rocket was put through its paces, the onboard microphones harvested data detailing how the launcher behaved when confronted with uneven winds and pressures. Moving forward, this data will be used to inform a computer model of the SLS, which will allow NASA to undertake detailed simulations regarding the rocket's structural strength during flight.

Source: NASA

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6 comments
jdelaurier
Wind-tunnel testing is still very important in aerospace engineering. No one solves the Navier-Stokes equations better than Mother Nature. Also, regarding the fact that the wind tunnel is 56 years old, I doubt that the air molecules know the difference (and are contemporary in any case).
MattII
I do wonder why they didn't try this sooner.
Timelord
SLS is such a boring, mundane name. They really should change it to something punchier if they want to get the public interested in the program. May I suggest Saturn VI or even Saturn X, since they leaped from Saturn I directly to Saturn V about 50 years ago? After all, nobody would have paid attention to the STS, but everybody knew the Space Shuttle. Lay minds need names, not acronyms.
JamesDemello
Why is NASA still in the rocket building business? They should leave that to the cheaper private sector and move on with developing new technology - not perpetuating old technology.
christopher
Why? Musk and others already have launch platforms - since when was it a good idea to spend taxpayer money to copy what's already working commercially? It's both cheaper and safer to use what's already working!
Imran Sheikh
To N.A.S.A -- SLS Block 1B Cargo @SLS Block 2 Cargo should have pin heads too for better directions and aerodynamics, also the boosters top triangles should be re-modeled to right triangles(half cone) with flat surface facing rocket OR else the rocket itself should have a collapsible extrusion above(core stage) both boosters that will create self drift wing for the boosters. also NASA should include a large compressed air or water tank to space which when returning to earth will release AIR or STEAM from the front pinhead nozzle which will create a rather cool wind or steam shield around the returning rocket till the time a safe low velocity is achieved.. Speaking of which i still don't understand why our returning spacecrafts hits the atmosphere with such high speed, IF they enter the atmosphere in the rotational direction of earth they will have a very lower velocity and no tremendous heat should generate while hitting air. -- Imran Sheikh