Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center testing SLS tanks for future space mission

NASA crews are collecting data on liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks, two parts that will ultimately help launch the Space Launch System rocket.

Posted: Jul 16, 2019 6:04 PM
Updated: Jul 19, 2019 10:34 PM

The Apollo 11 anniversary celebration comes as the Marshall Space Flight Center tests key pieces of equipment that will send us to the moon and Mars.

Just inside the gates of Redstone Arsenal, NASA crews are collecting data on liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks, two parts that will ultimately help launch the Space Launch System rocket. 

SLS Liquid Oxygen Tank

"The tanks of a rocket are what form the body of a rocket, and during launch, it experiences very high loads from launch loads, wind loads, movement," Mike Nichols, Lead Test Engineer, said. 

Nichols and his team have studied the liquid hydrogen tank for months now. They simulate pressure the tank will face during launch and collect data. Nichols says it's meaningful to be working on the future space mission, especially during the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. 

"We're 50 years since Apollo 11, and here we are testing the hardware that's going to take us back out of low Earth orbit again. Pretty cool," Nichols said. 

The crew will continue collecting data until the end of August, before scrapping the tank. The tank is specifically designed for testing, not flight.

Just down the street, in another test stand, is the liquid oxygen tank that was transported from New Orleans to Huntsville in early July. Similar to the hydrogen tank, April Potter and her team say it's only used for research.

"So it's not exactly the same as flight but it's pretty darn close enough, and it gets us what we need for structural qualification testing," Potter said. 

She says starting in October, 7 million pounds of force will be applied to the test stand. Potter says the work they are doing will ultimately put Americans back on the moon, and potentially, Mars. 

"Everyone is willing to make this test happen, everyone is willing to make SLS fly. It's a great time to be here and I think the work we are doing just speaks for itself," Potter said. 

The SLS is designed to be even more powerful than the Saturn V. The Trump administration wants NASA to put a man and woman on the moon by 2024.

Check out more of our Apollo 11 50th anniversary stories here. To watch our Apollo 11 specials, click here and here.

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