Did NASA intentionally damage the Artemis program's Space Launch System rocket?

NASA subjected the SLS rocket, which will be used in the upcoming Artemis missions, to rigorous test

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) recently got damaged during a procedure at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center. Fortunately, the damage occurred during a procedure designed to test the breaking point of the rocket.

The SLS was developed by NASA to serve as a launch vehicle for its deep space exploration missions. It is expected to operate as the premier launch vehicle for the agency's new spaceflight program known as Artemis.

Space Launch System
The Dec. 5 test pushed the tank to its limits to see how much force it would take to cause the tank’s structure to fail. This image shows the resulted buckling of the structure when the tank failed after exposure to more than 260% of expected flight loads over 5 hours. NASA/Dennis Olive

Testing the SLS Rocket

To ensure that the SLS rocket fuel tank will perform smoothly in upcoming missions, NASA created a test version of the component. Through several tests, NASA subjected the SLS test version to varying levels of pressure and force to mimic the conditions that tanks go through during launches and spaceflights.

On Dec. 5, NASA carried out its latest test which involved using gaseous nitrogen for pressurization and hydraulics to simulate the heavy loads that the tank will go through. According to NASA's engineers, the tests were designed to replicate the immense pressure the SLS tank will go through at engine thrust levels.

Breaking the SLS Rocket

The purpose of the recent test was to determine the tank's breaking point. After being exposed to over 260 percent of expected flight loads for more than five hours, the massive tank ruptured and got severely damaged. Despite the outcome of the test, NASA's engineers are satisfied with the result as it provided them with valuable information regarding the SLS.

"We purposely took this tank to its extreme limits and broke it because pushing systems to the point of failure gives us additional data to help us build rockets intelligently," Neil Otte, NASA's chief engineer for the SLS Stages Office said in a statement. "We will be flying the Space Launch System for decades to come, and breaking the propellant tank today will help us safely and efficiently evolve the SLS rocket as our desired missions evolve."

An artist's concept of the ARTEMIS spacecraft in orbit around the Moon
An artist's concept of the ARTEMIS spacecraft in orbit around the Moon NASA

Carrying Orion For The Artemis Program

Since NASA has successfully determined the breaking point of the SLS, the agency will now begin working on improving the fuel tank system. Once completed, it will most likely undergo another series of tests until the agency comes up with the best version of the rocket fuel tank.

The SLS will be used as the main rocket that will launch the spacecraft Orion for its mission to the Moon. In addition to this, it will serve as the launch vehicle for all spaceflight projects of the Artemis program.

This article was first published on December 9, 2019
Related topics : Nasa