Smooth sailing: Space launch system giving Marshall, Langley wind tunnels a workout

Aug 27, 2012 by Bill Hubscher
Engineers at the Marshall Center test the 130-metric-ton heavy-lift configuration of the Space Launch System rocket in the Trisonic Wind Tunnel in Bldg. 4732. Credit:NASA/MSFC

Launching rockets is no easy or inexpensive task. Developers must consider the ground support infrastructure, fuel elements and flight hardware itself; not to mention the safety of everyone involved.

Since well before the inception of NASA, engineers used wind tunnels and scale models to test how vehicles would respond and interact with the atmosphere. At the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., engineers are using testing to enhance the development of NASA's Space , a heavy-lift that will propel science and human exploration into deep space and launch NASA's to expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit.

The 70-metric-ton configuration of the SLS rocket, designed to carry the Orion spacecraft, is tested in the Trisonic Wind Tunnel at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. This view uses special cameras and a deflection of light directed through the windows in the tunnel to show the shadows of airflow as it changes angles at high speeds, helping visualize the various intense pressures of atmosphere on the model. Credit: NASA/MSFC

Engineers at Marshall's Trisonic Wind Tunnel have spent the past four months putting early SLS scale models through more than 900 tests of various crew and cargo configurations.

"We need to evaluate all the possible conditions that the launch vehicle may encounter as it traverses the atmosphere," said John Blevins, SLS lead engineer for aerodynamics and acoustics. "We look at many different configurations and designs of the same rocket, discovering how it reacts under variations in flight conditions. It is a very busy and exciting time for us."

Wind tunnel testing on the 70-metric-ton configuration of SLS, conducted at the Langley Research Center. Credit: NASA/LaRC

The Trisonic Wind Tunnel is testing the flight stability of SLS, providing the initial configuration testing and the basis to assess flight stability. Testing on a larger geometric scale at Langley's Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel and tests planned for Boeing's Polysonic Wind Tunnel in St. Louis will improve understanding of the vehicle's aerodynamics as the design matures. The Langley facility can accurately test limits of rocket designs, but only at speeds above Mach 1.5. The Boeing facility will be used for the lower Mach conditions on the larger model. At Marshall, tests are conducted to determine how the designs respond to roll, pitch and yaw at speeds from Mach 0.3 to Mach 5. The data from both tunnels will be merged to evaluate the design's performance, guidance and control.

"Once we analyze the data, we can determine the best configuration and refine our design of the vehicle," said SLS Chief Engineer Garry Lyles. "Any changes can be made safely, easily and inexpensively before the full-scale version is built. This helps ensure that SLS is an affordable and sustainable capability for human space exploration beyond ."

On a larger scale, engineers use wind tunnels to evaluate unsteady aerodynamic effects that can cause vehicle vibrations and resonance. The biggest SLS wind tunnel model test to date is scheduled for mid-September. Langley's Transonic Dynamics Tunnel will test the first large scale integrated model—a 12-foot-long version of the heavy-lift rocket to evaluate these unsteady aerodynamic phenomena.

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Testing for Dream Chaser Space System completed

May 15, 2012

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., successfully completed wind tunnel testing for Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) Space Systems of Louisville, Colo. The test will provide aerodynamic data that will aid in ...

Orion test flight: A look at SLS hardware, integration

Jul 02, 2012

(Phys.org) -- When NASA conducts its first test launch of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, the crew module's designers will record invaluable data about its performance -- from launch and flight, to re-entry ...

Image: Dream Chaser buffet wind tunnel model

May 08, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The Dream Chaser model with its Atlas V launch vehicle is undergoing final preparations at the Aerospace Composite Model Development Section's workshop for buffet tests at the Transonic Dynamics ...

NASA Tests Launch Abort System At Supersonic Speeds

Jul 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Aerospace engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center are conducting a series of wind tunnel tests to develop technology for future human space exploration. Using a six percent scale Orion model, ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

Dec 19, 2014

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JustChris
not rated yet Aug 27, 2012
Interesting article.

The very first image is an Ariane 5 scaled down rocket. Am I right?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.