NASA Conducts Sub-Scale Test of SLS Booster

It was three-two-one to brilliant fire as NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center tested a small solid rocket motor designed to mimic NASA's Space Launch System booster. The Mar. 14 test provides a quick, affordable and effective way to evaluate a new nozzle insulation material for the SLS solid rocket booster. Photo Credit: NASA/MSFC

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) located in Huntsville, Ala have successfully tested a motor that was designed to mimic the characteristics of the full-scale version of the rocket motor. The 20-second-long firing helped to prove out insulation materials that will be used on the version that NASA is hoping to use on the design of its new Space Launch System or SLS. 

The test article is 24 inches in diameter and measures 109 inches in length. This scaled-down version of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) that could be used to power SLS into space. MSFC is working to develop the SLS system for NASA. It is hoped that the new SLS system will power U.S. astronauts beyond low-Earth-orbit for the first time in over four decades.

“Test firing small motors at Marshall provides a quick, affordable and effective way to evaluate the new nozzle liner’s performance,” said Scott Ringel, an engineer at Marshall and the design lead for this test. “We have sophisticated analytic and computer modeling tools that tell us whether the new nozzle insulation will perform well, but nothing gives us better confidence than a hot-fire test.” 


The test was conducted to aid engineers as they analyze the viability of this design for future and full-scale rocket motor tests. The Qualification Motor-1 or QM-1 is the full scale version of the rocket tested today and is currently scheduled to undergo a full-scale test in the spring of 2013. Two of these five-segment SRBs, each measuring 154 feet long and some 12 feet in diameter, will be used on the first two demonstration flights of the 70 metric ton capacity of this new launch vehicle. 

The test served to check a number of various features for the new booster. Some of these include how the insulation system – which will line the nozzle of the rocket engine – and also how the plume from this rocket will react to other materials. 

Engineers at MSFC as well as with the prime contractor for the rocket motor, Alliant Techsystems or ATK, worked together to complete this subscale test and went so far as to add an intentional flaw with the rocket’s propellant to create a specific flaw. This allowed them to measure temperatures inside the motor at the precise point the flawed segment would become active. This will allow the design team to gain a better insight into the margin for error within the propellant itself; in addition, today’s test will enable them to better understand the acoustics and vibrations inherent to this rocket’s plume.

The sub-scaled version of the booster is slated for a full-scale test in the spring of next year. Image Credit: NASA
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