NASA Tests SLS Rocket by Complete Destruction
NASA is preparing for the 2024 Moon launches of the ongoing Artemis program, and ensuring that everything is working as expected is never a bad idea when you’re planning to send people out of help’s reach. In this context, the space agency has run a destructive test on the upper stage of the SLS rocket, and more specifically, its liquid oxygen tank.
This is a pretty massive 70 feet tall tank with a diameter of 28 feet, featuring an 185,000-pound steel ring. NASA wanted to determine how durable the tank is, as well as where the weakest points would be located, what types of ruptures would form, and if everything would be in the range of what is to be expected.
For this reason, the engineers used several hydraulic cylinders to apply millions of pounds of force to the tank’s shell, simulating something that is not expected to actually happen during any stage of the mission. Still, having a predictable point of failure means a lot for the engineers, and indeed the tank failed within 2% of the failure point that was pre-determined based on theoretical calculations. Of course, the engineers filled the tank with water, as using oxygen would be far too dangerous for this test. The Orion stage adapter, launch vehicle stage adapter, interim cryogenic propulsion stage, and everything else that constitutes the upper section of the rocket was also damaged as a result
This was test number 199 for the SLS, which gives you an idea of the scale of the preparatory work that takes place for these missions. In total, NASA has accumulated a whopping 421 GB of data from tests alone, each being crucial to the development of nothing less than perfect machines.
Destructive tests cost a lot, especially when we’re talking about aerospace equipment, but they yield a lot more data that is also way easier to interpret than non-destructive testing.