NASA engineers have deliberately destroyed its next-generation rocket which hopes to travel to the Moon in footage released by the space agency.
Space flight remains mankind’s most dangerous venture – so NASA works to find out how much stress its rockets can endure.
To ensure the next generation of missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond are as safe as they can be, NASA engineers have tested a core component of the space agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) beyond its limits.
The 70ft SLS oxygen test tank was set up on Test Stand 4697 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama and subjected to “crippling force” to find the point at which the hardware would break.
The torture test was designed to simulate the kind of “extremes forces it will experience during launch and flight”.
For the test, hydraulic cylinders were positioned all around the tank to apply millions of pounds of pressure from all sides while engineers measured and recorded the effects of the launch and flight forces.
Eventually, in line with a prediction from NASA and Boeing engineers, the tank tore apart along one welded seam after being subjected to 4,000 metric tonnes of force.
“The Marshall test lab team has worked closely with the Space Launch System Program to test the rocket’s structures from the top to bottom,” said Ralph Carruth, Marshall’s test lab director.
He added: ”After watching the test stands being built, working alongside SLS and Boeing engineers to establish testing procedures and conducting and gathering results of five structural qualifying tests, we are proud to contribute data shows these structures can withstand the rigours of flight.”
The SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway and human landing system are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.
The 212ft-tall core stage is the largest, most complex rocket stage NASA has built since the Saturn V stages that powered the Apollo missions to the Moon.
The Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration.
It’s part of the US’ long range plan to land humans on the Moon and, eventually, Mars.
“This year is a landmark year for core stage testing for the Artemis missions,” said Julie Bassler, the SLS stages manager.
She added: “We have successfully completed our core stage major structural tests at Marshall Space Flight Center and are making progress on Green Run testing of the Artemis I core stage at Stennis Space Center that will simulate launch.
“All these tests are not only valuable for the first Artemis mission but also validates the new integrated design of the SLS core stage structure, propulsion and avionics systems and ensures its readiness for future flights.”