HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The 215-foot test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center is impressive, and its job is to test a piece of equipment that's even more impressive than the stand itself.
It's the largest test campaign since the days of the space shuttle: testing the liquid hydrogen tank that's the largest fuel tank ever made for a rocket.
"SLS is going to be the largest volume and capacity that's ever been built for a rocket before," said Marshall Space Flight Center integration manager Tim Flores.
It's the largest piece of structural test hardware for the SLS — the 149-foot tall liquid hydrogen tank for the core stage — was loaded onto the 215-foot tall Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Jan. 14.
"This test stand consists of 7 million pounds of steel above ground, and that's holding a 104,000-pound liquid hydrogen test tank.," Flores said.
The tank will go through test case simulations to make sure it will hold up under pressure when it's time for the actual test launch. NASA said dozens of hydraulic cylinders in Test Stand 4693 will “push and pull the tank,” to subject it to stresses the core stage is expected to see during launch.
It's a sight to behold now, but assembling it was equally remarkable. Up to 150 furloughed NASA employees worked on it during the partial government shutdown. But even without pay, they were happy to be there.
"You see a lot of smiling faces because when you get a piece like that, that rolls out, it's really exciting," Flores said.
The rocket will be used in NASA's Exploration mission 1 -- which is the first of increasingly complex missions that will enable astronauts to explore the moon and beyond.
As of now, the first test flight is scheduled for the summer of 2020.