Dynetics SLS Tank Sent for Testing

A massive cryogenic tank is loaded onto a truck at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to be moved to a dock on the Tennessee River in Huntsville, Alabama. (Credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)
A massive cryogenic tank is loaded onto a truck at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to be moved to a dock on the Tennessee River in Huntsville, Alabama. (Credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — Now that’s a wide load. An 18-foot-wide, 10,000-plus-pound cryogenic tank for NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), traveled by road and by river March 12 from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to a Dynetics Inc. test facility in Iuka, Mississippi.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. The first flight test of the SLS will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system.

NASA plans to evolve SLS to provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system. To do that, the SLS will require an advanced booster with more thrust than any existing U.S. liquid- or solid-fueled boosters. Huntsville-based Dynetics is one of four companies contracted under a NASA Research Announcement to develop technologies to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for a future version of the SLS. These initiatives are examining advanced booster concepts with risk-reduction activities and hardware demonstrations.

The cryogenic tank is part of that work, and it was assembled using friction-stir-welding tools at the Marshall Center, which manages the SLS Program for the agency. Friction stir welding uses frictional heating combined with forging pressure to produce high-strength bonds virtually free of defects. The welding process transforms metals from a solid state into a “plastic-like” state, and uses a rotating pin tool to soften, stir and forge a bond between two metal plates to form a uniform welded joint — a vital requirement of next-generation space hardware.

Crews lower the cryogenic tank onto a barge March 12 at NASA's dock on the Tennessee River. From there, the tank was delivered to a Dynetics test facility in Iuka, Mississippi, to verify that its structural design and manufacturing processes meet all NASA requirements. (Credit:  NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)
Crews lower the cryogenic tank onto a barge March 12 at NASA’s dock on the Tennessee River. From there, the tank was delivered to a Dynetics test facility in Iuka, Mississippi, to verify that its structural design and manufacturing processes meet all NASA requirements. (Credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)

“We want to think long-term and prepare now with our industry partners for future configurations of the vehicle to be sustainable for many missions to come,” said Sam Stephens, task manager in the SLS Advanced Development Office at the Marshall Center. “While the initial SLS configuration will use two, five-segment solid rocket boosters, the evolved SLS vehicle may require an advanced booster with significant increase in performance from any boosters we have available today.”

The tank will be tested at the Iuka facility in late April to verify that its structural design and manufacturing processes meet all NASA requirements. The testing will include hydrostatic proof and cryothermal testing with liquid nitrogen, which will simulate liquid oxygen conditions.

“Working with flight-like hardware of this size is exciting,” said Andy Crocker, program manager for the Dynetics SLS Program. “Completion of the testing will verify Dynetics’ affordable structures concept. The first step was completing the tank assembly in the fall. Testing under relevant conditions will further prove the approach and the build.”

In addition to Dynetics, three other companies were awarded contracts to develop technologies for potential application to SLS advanced booster concepts: Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia; Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California; and Northrop Grumman Corp. Aerospace Systems of Redondo Beach, California.

For information about NASA’s SLS, visit:

 http://www.nasa.gov/sls

  • windbourne

    Funny.
    I would have bet on FH flying before SLS.
    As it is, later this year, spacex will announce full testing of raptor to start at stennis.
    But, how soon for FH?

  • Terry Stetler

    Falcon Heavy #1 is being built at Hawthorne now, and LC-39A is well into construction. The launch platform framework is up, and the hangar is up and mostly sheathed. What isn’t sheathed is waiting for the internal crane hardware to arrive.

  • Pasi Jokela

    Okay, I’ll bite. Was it not possible to make this much heavier than 10000 pounds?

  • Hug Doug

    Probably not. I’m assuming it is made of aluminum, if it’s 1/4 inch thick you’re looking at a weight of … approximately 12,000 lb. by my rough calculations. Since it weighs less than that, we can say with certainty that the walls of this tank are at least that thin. It probably can’t be made to weigh much less without seriously jeopardizing its structural integrity. It still has to handle all the forces and stresses of a rocket launch.

  • Pasi Jokela

    Good–albeit boring–answer. I wouldn’t be happy if a tank of this size weighed more than 2000 pounds. Then again, maybe it carries the weight and load of whatever is on top of it (a LH tank?), so must be sturdy.

  • Hug Doug

    I suppose the exciting answer would be to make the walls half as thin and then watch it fail and explode during launch! xD

  • Pasi Jokela

    I tried to watch as many live launch broadcasts as possible for something like 10-15 years, until Orbital at last delivered when I was watching! Too bad for that particular payload to go kaboom, but it sure was SPECTACULAR! (I don’t wish kaboom for every launch, I just hope that I’m watching live if/when it happens…:)

  • Snofru Chufu

    You are at least honest. 🙂