Apollo Test Stand Re-Purposed For SLS

The B-2 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center is undergoing renovations to prepare it for testing of Space Launch Systems. Photo Credit: NASA/SSC
The B-2 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center is undergoing renovations to prepare it for testing of Space Launch Systems. Photo Credit: NASA/SSC

One of the test stands at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi which supported the development of the Saturn family of launch vehicles is now being tapped to test engines that are planned for use on NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System, or “SLS.”

The B-2 stand, as it is known, was used to validate the Saturn’s engines before they were used to prepare for manned missions to the Moon. According to NASA, B-2 has been renovated to test the Space Launch System’s core stage in late 2016 and late 2017. This element of SLS has four RS-25 rocket engines. This element will be placed into the stand where it will be used to conduct propellant fill and drain tests as well as two hot-fire tests.

B-2 has served NASA for over four decades. Photo Credit: NASA / SSC
B-2 has served NASA for over four decades. Photo Credit: NASA / SSC

“These tests will help us understand how the spacecraft and engines behave and provide critical information for ensuring mission safety,” said the manager of the B-2 Test Stand Restoration, Buildout, and Test Project, Rick Rauch. “After all, if there are problems, it’s better to address them on the ground than in the air.”

Once B-2 had been selected as the site to conduct core stage testing, engineers at Stennis converted hand-drawn blueprints of the structure into computer models to bring the design work up to modern standards. Renovation was then segmented into three distinct phases: restoration, buildout, and special test equipment. It took the team about a year and a half to complete the evaluation process required to determine what work would need to be done to bring the structure into the 21st century.

“In the first phase, we are restoring the test facility to its original design condition, where it could be used to test any number of stages,” Rauch said. “In the second phase, we will focus on building out the stand specifically to accommodate the SLS core stage. Then, in the third phase, we will complete the structural, mechanical, and electrical interfaces required to test the core stage.”

Before all is said and done, no element of B-2 will be untouched. Engineers have also been tasked with determining the cost of restoring B-2 to the level required to conduct what is known as “green level testing.” This is where the engines are assembled into a single configuration with the core stage and fired at nearly full-power for the first time. Engineers are working to make sure that the newly-configured system will prove to be safe and reliable.

“The teams at the Stennis Space Center are doing a great job preparing the B-2 facility,” said the SLS Stages Green Run Test Manager John Rector. Rector is based out of Marshall Space Flight Center. “We’re on track to begin testing there in 2016. It’s an exciting time for NASA as we establish a new national capability for future space exploration.”

Demolition work to prepare B-2 for its new role began last summer. Now structural restoration has started in hopes of being completed by 2016.

NASA hopes that SLS will serve to send astronauts to far-flung destinations such as an asteroid and perhaps, one day, Mars. The manned spacecraft that will utilize SLS for these missions is NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. SLS is currently scheduled to conduct its first test flight from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B in Florida in 2017. This unmanned flight is planned to send Orion around the Moon. The first crewed flight is slated to take place in 2021, with a proposed mission to send crew to an asteroid currently being a possibility.

Image Credit: NASA / SSC
Image Credit: NASA / SSC


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