NASA will soon start stress-testing the liquid hydrogen tank of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. On 14 January, the test article was loaded onto Test Stand 4693 at Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA's SLS is an advanced launch vehicle being developed to provide the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit.
According to NASA, SLS is the only rocket that will be capable of sending Orion spacecraft, astronauts and large cargoes to the Moon on a single mission, thanks to its unmatched power and capabilities. The system will offer more energy, payload mass and volume capability than any launch vehicle currently in use.
Using the immense power of the SLS rocket, the Orion spacecraft will be able to reach a speed of at least 39,690kph needed to break out of low-Earth orbit and commence the journey to the Moon or Mars.
NASA believes this powerful launch system will also open new possibilities for sending robotic scientific missions to places located far way in the solar system, such as Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
The SLS was earlier scheduled to launch in December 2018, but is now expected to lift off not before 2020.
The test version of SLS rocket's liquid hydrogen tank was recently brought from NASA's New Orleans manufacturing centre to Huntsville.
The tank is about 200 feet tall and will make two-thirds of the rocket's core stage. It can store 2,032,766 litres of supercooled liquid hydrogen at -252 degrees Celsius. This supercooled liquid hydrogen mixed with liquid oxygen will feed the SLS's RS-25 engines.
"The liquid hydrogen tank test article is structurally identical to the flight version of the tank that will comprise two-thirds of the core stage," NASA revealed on its website.
During stress testing, the tank will be subjected to high stresses and loads through dozens of hydraulic cylinders installed on the 65.5-metre-tall test stand. The cylinders will push and pull the tank, and generate the same stresses that the tank will experience at the time of lift-off and flight through deep space.
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