The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has unveiled a powerful new rocket that may soon be used to transport astronauts to the moon and International Space Station (ISS). Earlier this month, NASA showcased its highly anticipated Space Launch System (SLS) at its Marshall Space Slight Center launch site. According to NASA, the SLS — once completed — will be the most powerful rocket to date. As a result, it could prove instrumental in NASA’s efforts to send astronauts back to the moon as well as the ISS.
NASA’s recent unveiling of the SLS was part of a regularly scheduled testing phase. All rockets must be thoroughly tested to ensure they won’t rupture during launch. If the container body housing the rocket fuel ruptures or otherwise experiences a leak, the pressurized fuel could trigger an explosion. This is something NASA wants to prevent with its upcoming SLS, which prompted NASA to conduct a recent rupture test
During the test, NASA scientists experienced the SLS’s liquid hydrogen to extreme pressure to mimic the stress it would encounter during a real-world launch. As explained by NASA’s Jim Bridenstine, the SLS’s liquid hydrogen tank was able to withstand over 260% of expected flight loads before rupturing.
“Success! Engineers @NASA_Marshall tested the @NASA_SLS liquid hydrogen test article tank to failure – the tank withstood more than 260% of expected flight loads before buckling and rupturing,” wrote NASA’s Jim Bridenstine in a tweet on Dec. 9, 2019.
Being that the SLS’s liquid hydrogen tank ruptured, you might assume NASA’s recent test was a failure, but this isn’t necessarily true. NASA actually wanted the tank to rupture so that it could determine exactly how much pressure it can withstand. With the SLS’s liquid hydrogen tank rupturing at 260%, the new rocket falls within 3% of NASA’s projected failure point, which is a positive sign that NASA on track to developing a safe and efficient new rocket.
Not only will the SLS use liquid hydrogen fuel; it’s also expected to use two solid-fuel rocket boosters. The combination of these elements will make the SLS NASA’s most powerful rocket to date. NASA says the SLS may soon be used to send astronauts to the moon as well as the ISS, with the first manned missions occurring in 2022 or 2023.
Of course, the SLS project isn’t cheap. Reports show that NASA has allocated approximately $8 billion for the project, which is up from the project’s initially planned budget of $6.2 billion.