REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - A piece of equipment that is crucial to the future launch of the Space Launch System made it to Marshall Space Flight Center recently. The 710-mile journey from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility is just the beginning for the cargo brought here by the humongous Pegasus barge.
"It's 310 feet long, so it's longer than a football field," Tim Flores, SLS Core Stage Integration Manager, said. " We needed that because of the core stage."
The core stage is part of the Space Launch System. Pegasus will eventually bring four of its five components to Marshall Space Flight Center for testing. That includes the engine section, liquid hydrogen tank, the intertank and liquid oxygen tank.
Pegasus recently transported the intertank from the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Marshall. The intertank is a strong piece of hardware.
"It is where the solid rocket boosters connect and so it's got to take the thrust of the engines," Flores explained. "It's got to take the thrust of the solid rocket boosters and then all the weight of the entire vehicle."
Now, the intertank will undergo testing.
"It's telling us a lot of information about what the articles can actually take, either in takeoff or in flight," Flores said.
Testing starts on computers before the expensive test articles come to Marshall. They won't fly, but they help make flight possible.
"We really kind of know what the answer is already," Flores explained. "We do all of this analytically first. Now, it's a bonus to then be able to build a test article and then get real true test data that actually validates those test models."
As for the Space Launch System, before it makes a spectacle in the sky, it must find its way on the water.
"Without the Pegasus, we could not move this equipment," Alan Murphy, Team Lead for NASA Barge Pegasus, said. "The rocket is 27.5 feet diameter. You can't take that across the road, you can't take that on rail so you have to have this critical infrastructure."
It's called Pegasus, and it'll make several voyages before SLS launches in 2020. SLS engineers say testing on the intertank is expected to begin in September.
They plan to run tests on it for around four months.
By the way, these test articles for the SLS are similar to the sections of the Saturn V that hang in the US Space & Rocket Center's Davidson Center. Those were used for testing when the moon rocket was being developed.