NASA engineers spent last week deliberately breaking the Space Launch System’s fuel tank in order to see how durable it is. The process involved a test version of the SLS rocket, one made specifically for these activities. The space agency has shared the results of that test and they’re surprising, indicating that the rocket’s fuel tank can withstand extreme loads.
The SLS rocket is a massive undertaking for NASA; once complete, it will be the only rocket capable of sending cargo, astronauts, and the Orion capsule to the Moon at the same time. The rocket plays a critical role in NASA’s effort to return to the Moon by 2024, as well as its future plans for deep space travel.
One of the most recent tests involving the SLS rocket took place on December 5, during which time NASA engineers subjected the test version of the rocket’s liquid hydrogen tank to extreme flight loads in order to see how long it could withstand the pressure. According to the space agency, the fuel tank finally buckled under 260-percent the anticipated flight load after more than five hours.
The result is what looks like a giant silo that has been ripped open. SLS Stages Office chief engineer Neil Otte explained, ‘We will be flying the Space Launch System for decades to come, and breaking the propellant tank today will help us safely and efficiently evolve the SLS rocket as our desired missions evolve.’
Ultimately, NASA says the fuel tank broke the way engineers had predicted it would. The data from this test will help many aerospace companies when designing their own rocket fuel tanks, benefiting the industry as a whole.