Development of NASA’s next generation heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is well underway, and earlier this week Alliant Techsystems (ATK) announced the successful completion of two key avionics tests for the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) which will help NASA to launch astronauts again off American soil on missions beyond low-Earth orbit within the next decade.
The tests—known as hot fires—put the new, advanced avionics system through simulated SLS launch sequences (both in preflight checks and in an ascent profile) by verifying communication between ground and flight systems, starting motor ignition, and moving the thrust vector control (TVC) system. Successfully operating the booster’s TVC system as if the booster were actually launching, according to ATK, has validated the new SLS booster avionics subsystem and electronic support equipment (ESE).
“ATK has integrated value stream efficiencies across our SLS booster supply chain to achieve significant cost improvements,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Space Launch division. “As such, we have been able to design, develop, test and streamline operations as we prepare for the first launch in 2017.”
The new, advanced avionics system and ESE—which was developed by ATK at their facilities in Utah with support from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama—not only provides power to the twin boosters, but will also handle communication with the flight computers, booster ignition, command and control of the booster steering system, and booster staging.
The test team also validated the new ESE which replaced ground equipment that was originally designed and built in the 1970s for NASA’s space shuttle program. The old equipment, referred to as “Heritage” equipment, was successfully used on all 53 of the Space Shuttle Reusable Solid Rocket Motor and three 5-segment development motors static motor firings. The new ESE demonstrated in these tests, according to ATK, dramatically reduces cost and increases reliability of the booster system.
The recent tests also presented ATK with a great opportunity to test and evaluate their test team as a whole, as the processes and tools needed to conduct simulated countdowns and firings will certainly strengthen and enhance the team’s performance once the day comes for the real launch, which is not expected until 2017.
“Knowledge transfer is one of the most critical aspects of the avionics test and one of the most rewarding,” said Precourt. “It’s inspiring to see our early career employees train on this modernized system, armed with knowledge passed on to them by our world-class Space Shuttle team.”
Cincinnati Electronics of Mason, Ohio, provided ATK with the avionics systems and boxes. Southern California Braiding, an IEC Electronics Company from Bell Gardens, Calif., was responsible for the cable harnesses. ATK notes that both suppliers have been, and will continue to be, integral to the aerospace and defense giant throughout the development lifecycle of the SLS booster.
“Our suppliers are extremely important to the success of the SLS booster program,” adds Precourt. “Their dedication to ensuring safety for human spaceflight is commendable.”