SLS Structural Testing to begin soon at Marshall Space Flight Center

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - We are now officially in the next phase of the Mission to Mars, and Marshall Space Flight Center is about to take center stage.

Massive test components of the upper stage of the SLS rocket arrived this week to Redstone, opening the door for critical structure tests.

One came by land, the other by sea, or the Tennessee River to be specific.  “We’re through the design phase, we’re now into a testing phase and moving on into design certification," says Steve Creech, the SLS Deputy Element Manager.

The two structures, an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), and a Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA), make up the upper portion of the SLS Rocket. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen and hydrogen system built just down the road at United Launch Alliance in Decatur.  “It’s actually going to do a big job of taking the Orion spacecraft all the way from lower Earth orbit to a trajectory to send it to the moon," says Creech.

The LVSA is also a local product, constructed by Teledyne Brown. Both will now be subjected to intense structural testing at Marshall Space Flight Center. “Twisting, pulling, putting loads on this part of the rocket to be able to simulate flight," says Creech.

The testing can't truly begin until all four parts of the upper structure are assembled on the test stand, which is a tougher task than it sounds. “Having the different structures and especially when some of the structures are cone like, that makes the process very complicated," says Dee Vancleave, the SLS Structural Test Conductor.

All of this will take place at Marshall, and for good reason.  “Marshall has these kind of unique capabilities of structural test stands that don’t exist anywhere else to be able to do this scale of testing," says Vancleave.

With all the data collection and calculations, it would be easy to get lost in the logistics.  “I really start to try and grasp and appreciate the moment that I’m living in right now," she says.

Dee says she's humbled to be included among some of the greatest minds, taking part in our country's most daring quest.  “I probably won’t really appreciate it until 10 years down the road when we’re flying. I’ll be like, I was a part of that," says Vancleave.

Work will begin out at the test site Wednesday, when engineers begin assembling the upper portion of the rocket. The whole process will take about three months.