ATK: Program Aiding in Improving Efficiency of SLS Booster Production

This image shows the 70-ton, crewed version of NASA’s Space Launch System which ATK’s new employee-driven streamlining program is working to make more efficient. Image Credit: NASA

NASA and ATK held an event today to highlight efforts made to reduce the amount of time that it takes to produce the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) for NASA’s Space Launch System or SLS. The Utah-based company detailed what it has accomplished in terms of manufacturing the first ground test motor as well as improvements to the time it takes to produces the boosters.

According to ATK, the amount of time required to produce one of the boosters has been reduced by an estimated 46 percent. This translates into a potential savings of millions of dollars – a key concern in these troubled economic times.

“As we were challenged with decreased budgets and a more streamlined workforce, we knew we had to make changes in order to stay competitive, but we also know the importance of ensuring we deliver a safe and reliable product for America’s human space flight program,” said ATK’s General Manager and Vice President of the company’s Space Launch Division, Charlie Precourt. “Through the VSM process we are delivering an even higher-quality product for less cost than originally envisioned for the SLS program.”

The process has been dubbed the Value Stream Mapping (VSM) process and is being implemented company-wide. Essentially, it allows employees to point out inefficient practices and procedures. According to ATK, this process has caused some 400 changes to be implemented – all of which were approved by NASA.

While NASA is working to propel astronauts beyond LEO for the first time since the Apollo era, it is working to do so in as cost-efficient method as possible. It is hoped that ATK’s VSM program will help to achieve this goal. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

Most of the changes made were in areas that involved either redundant processes or product moves. It was found that these particular actions increased the likelihood of flaws entering into the production line. According to ATK, one booster segment alone was tracked moving 47 times as it was manufactured. The company reduced the number of moves that these segments needed to just seven, which reduces the chance of something being damaged during transport and also back on labor costs.

Some of NASA’s requirements were found to already being handled by other tests. Other requirements were met by more advanced testing methods and equipment. NASA reviewed and approved all of the changes that ATK suggested.

“NASA support and encouragement through this process shows its commitment to building the Space Launch System more affordably to ensure a safe, reliable and―most important―sustainable program for this nation,” said Precourt.

Throughout the course of the production of the Qualification Motor-1 (QM-1) numerous improvements were made in four different booster segments. These VSM changes will be tested in spring of 2013 when NASA and ATK will conduct another booster ground test.

“America’s next steps in deep space exploration build on the lessons learned from our nation’s rich human spaceflight history. By using the best-of-the-best from shuttle and improving on previous investments, we will produce the needed solid booster for the first SLS flights,” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We are encouraged by the progress being made at ATK. Their commitment to deliver a safe and high-quality rocket booster is vital as we build SLS to enable exploration to new frontiers in the solar system.”

Last month, ATK was awarded a contract designed to reduce risks involved with the development of boosters for SLS.

SLS is being developed to launch astronauts beyond low-Earth-orbit for the first time since the Apollo era (the last Moon landing took place in 1972). It is hoped that by the time of the first launch of first SLS heavy-lift rocket, currently slated to take place in 2017, that NASA’s commercial partners will have assumed the responsibility of delivering crew and cargo to low-Earth-orbit destinations such as the International Space Station.

ATK is contracted to produce six SRBs for SLS. These include the two ground tests (QM-1 and QM-2) and two each for the first two test flights.

“Our workforce stepped up to the challenge, and our employees brought cost-saving ideas forward that were accepted by our NASA customer,” said Precourt. “These changes also pave the way for ATK in producing an Advanced Concept Booster that could be used to support missions throughout our solar system.”

ATK has been contracted to produce six boosters for SLS. Two each for the first two flights of SLS and one each for QM-1 and QM-2. Image Credit: NASA


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