Last week, the Northrop Grumman facility in Promontory Point/Corrinne, Utah conducted a static rocket test of its 5-stage solid-fuel booster rocket for NASA’s ongoing Artemis missions. Artemis is an ambitious unmanned spaceflight program that will take a research vessel through a longer exploratory mission and return to Earth than anything attempted so far. The test was designed to collect data on several critical rocket performance parameters, in front of a large crowd of the public, engineers, parts suppliers, university researchers, NASA employees, school groups and the press. The test, which was considered successful, lasted nearly two minutes, during which fuel burned into the scarred mountainside used for previous static tests.
The test area itself is located about a mile from the viewing area, which isn’t far enough that the heat and vibration of the rocket itself isn’t palpable, even in the heat. of a mid-July afternoon. After a delay in the countdown due to the loss of a camera panel, the launch supervisor announced that the power supply was being checked to determine if the launch could continue. Given the massive expense and logistical work involved in conducting and organizing the test, the anxiety of the moment added further suspense to the proceedings. As the large crowd celebrated the occasional cloud trying to make its way past the sun, the heat shifted to the mid-80s as the launch time was pushed back.
The go-ahead was finally given when the clock ticked closer to two o’clock and the launch supervisor performed the necessary system checks before ignition. At time zero, a blinding flash erupted from the base of the rocket, followed seconds later by the unique sound of rocket fuel in full engagement. Due to the slower sound of speed, sound waves take longer to reach observers than luminescence, creating an eerie moment of near-silence. As the sound reached the crowd, the battered breath turned into cheers. As the fire burned brighter and the column of smoke rose higher, a visible portion of the crowd stepped back to capture the image with phones, cameras and video devices. The perception of two minutes can certainly be variable.
“It didn’t seem to last that long,” local visitor Hope Briggs said afterwards. “But I’ve seen it before.” Malad, being only about 50 minutes from the launch site, often sends visitors, as well as employees, to Northrop Grumman. Although firm numbers were not available, Northrop Grumman’s communications team noted that Oneida County was a significant employee pool for the facility.
In operations as tightly designed as spaceflight, it is essential to ensure that the design is capable of performing its mission functions safely and efficiently. Over the decades, NASA has of course encountered situations in which the failure of one element has led to catastrophic results.
The specific properties of the rocket being tested were the performance of the new engine ignition system, the fuel temperature behavior, the new phenotic materials used in various elements of the construction, and the breaking performance of a plug. high density nozzle. These items are being tested for possible use in the Artemis 3 project, according to Mark Pond, Booster Manager for Northrop Grumman’s SLS program.
Bruce Tiller, Element Manager for SLS Booster with NASA/Marshall Spaceflight said: “The best I can tell you is that it was a good test. I’ve heard chief engineers arguing over things that weren’t that important, so that’s a good sign! He further stated that “it’s an element towards NASA’s larger goals. All of this leads us to hopefully getting back to the Moon, maybe living there and mining there. For me, it’s a big event [as a part of] get us thinking about that bigger picture.
The SLS FSB-2 rocket is made up of 5 segments, each weighing around 300,000 pounds, the equivalent of a blue whale. In total, the rocket weighs about 1.5 million pounds when fully fueled and stands (or stands in this case) at 177 feet. At launch, the rocket delivers 3.6 million pounds of thrust. Between the two rockets that will ultimately take the Artemis mission into space, 75% of the thrust needed to exit the atmosphere will be provided by Northrop rockets. The test provided 393 channels of data to test administrators, along with 22 active cameras. Northrop Grumman researchers will retrieve test components and analyze data to submit to NASA by early this week.