Orbital ATK Completes Qualification of SLS Solid Rocket Booster Avionics

The ground test of Orbital ATK’s five-segment rocket motor, known as QM-1, ocurred on March 11, 2015. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

DULLES, Virginia, 6 September 2017 (Orbital ATK) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, recently completed an important qualification test of the avionics system for the solid rocket boosters the company has developed and is now manufacturing for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). Completion of this milestone is an important step toward preparing the SLS and Orion spacecraft for their first flight in 2019. Two Orbital ATK-developed five-segment rocket boosters will be used on each SLS launch to help provide initial thrust for the first two minutes of flight.

The avionics system is considered the “brains of the booster” as it starts booster ignition, communicates with the SLS launch vehicle computers during flight, and initiates booster separation upon completion of the first stage burn. The system is now qualified as meeting NASA’s demanding human-rating requirements, which provide a level of redundancy to ensure a safe flight environment through various phases of lift-off, ascent and staging.

“Completion of booster avionics system qualification is a significant step forward in supporting overall vehicle qualification and launch of the first flight of SLS – Exploration Mission-1,” said Jeff Foote, Vice President of NASA Programs for Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division. “We are proud of this accomplishment and look forward to completing full certification of the booster later this year.”

Qualification of the booster avionics system included a rigorous and comprehensive test series that thoroughly verified the fidelity of the system in a variety of expected and abnormal conditions. Key interactions confirmed during qualification testing included the ability to initiate booster ignition, control the booster during flight, and terminate flight.

The Space Launch System is NASA’s new heavy-lift launch vehicle that is being built to take crew and cargo to destinations beyond earth orbit, including to cislunar space and eventually Mars. SLS, along with the Orion spacecraft, will enable human exploration on a variety of missions to deep space. It has the greatest capacity of any launch system ever built, ensuring continued American leadership in space exploration.

Orbital ATK manufactures the twin, five-segment solid rocket boosters in Promontory, Utah, about an hour and a half north of Salt Lake City. Contributing to SLS booster production are 29 key suppliers across 17 states including Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

About Orbital ATK – Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier. Its main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition; satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs approximately 13,000 people across the U.S. and in several international locations. For more information, visit www.orbitalatk.com.

  • Jimmy S. Overly

    LOL SLS.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Sometimes the tortoise is just late and old.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Can someone ask OA why their 5-segment firecracker needs fiducials painted all over it for tracking when they make these things called GPS receivers?

  • Lee

    “It has the greatest capacity of any launch system ever built…”

    Uh, no. The Saturn V could throw 10 more metric tons to LEO.

  • IamGrimalkin
  • redneck

    Actually no. It may eventually morph into something that can lift whatever eventually. PowerPoint is noted for under performance characteristics.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Two flags on the play, claiming performance of paper rocket and linking to “space.com”

  • therealdmt

    This isn’t Block 2, and Block 2 may well never be built.

    Further, if Block 2 does ever come to fruition, one of its definitive characteristics is that it would use different boosters (booster which are the only notional at this time “advanced boosters”):


    These boosters that they are talking about here are not part of “the greatest capacity of any launch vehicle ever built”, not even in “a PowerPoint rocket” sense

  • IamGrimalkin

    I was assuming he was talking about block 2, because otherwise I don’t know where the “10 more tons to LEO” comes from.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Was Kimberly Robinson misquoted in this article? Because if not, it doesn’t really matter which website it comes from: the important part is the quotations from the SLS director of communications.

  • therealdmt


    Well, here’s a bit of a comparison from Wikipedia (which of course isn’t necessarily gospel but which is generally pretty useful):

    “Three versions of the SLS launch vehicle are planned: Block 1, Block 1B, and Block 2. Each will use the same core stage with four main engines, but Block 1B will feature a more powerful second stage called the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), and Block 2 will combine the EUS with upgraded boosters. Block 1 has a baseline LEO payload capacity of 70 metric tons (77 short tons) and Block 1B has a baseline of 105 metric tons (116 short tons). The proposed Block 2 will have lift capacity of 130 metric tons (140 short tons), which is similar to that of the Saturn V.[19][31] Some sources state this would make the SLS the most capable heavy lift vehicle built;[32][33] although the Saturn V lifted approximately 140 metric tons (150 short tons) to LEO in the Apollo 17 mission.[14][34]”

  • Jeff2Space

    Because engineers have been tracking rocket stages optically since the beginning of rocketry.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Yeah, that’s where the extra 10 tons come from. What the SLS guy says in that interview is that the 140t Saturn V figure includes the mass of the third stage, while the 130t SLS block 2 figure doesn’t. If you compare them on a even playing figures the SLS lifts more.

    Personally, I don’t see why people are so interested in comparing LEO figures for two rockets that don’t go to LEO, anyway.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yet, no other rocket today has fiducials plastered all over it. There is something specific about SLS CONOPS which accounts for this.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    I’m sure they got the quote right but that would require me to go into that rat’s nest of a website.

  • Lee

    Yes, I was comparing the two based on the metric tons to LEO given in the WikiPedia pages for each.

    The reason you would compare the LEO figures is that you might launch large, heavy parts of a future space station using SLS (although I doubt it). After all, Saturn V did put SkyLab into LEO.

  • IamGrimalkin

    And the lack of optical tracking cost RocketLabs their first launch: if they had someone on the ground too, they wouldn’t have had to abort when telemetry failed.

    There is plenty to criticize the SLS for, but having a redundant tracking system seems quite sensible to me.

  • windbourne

    love those palindromes?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Wrong. You would use a range radar for FTS so clouds don’t get in the way for real FTS purposes. What makes you think this is redundant system? I am suspecting that they have no active telemetry coming off the SRBs after sep and this is the primary method of tracking them. Same with the first stage after 1/2 sep. We know the range radar at the CCAFS can’t track 3 bogies simultaneously and that is one reason SpaceX moved to AFTS ahead of FH. SLS will be a fair weather rocket given very infrequent flights.

  • therealdmt

    For the last month or two, I’ve kept getting a message “Cannot Verify Server Identity” whenever I try to go to that site on Safari. The site was always a bit of a pain in the buttocks anyway, and now it’s seemingly toxic…

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Rule of thumb is the domain name with most direct and short name on a topic is the worst.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Why do I think the optical tracking will be a redundant system? Because if you are doing optical tracking, that’s the sensible thing to do, and unless I see evidence to the contrary, I assume rocket engineers will do the sensible thing.

    Of course harking back memories of the Saturn V also makes sense, as public outreach is one of the main arguments in favour of manned spaceflight, but considering they say it is to be used for optical tracking…

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    It isn’t sensible to use expensive 40 year old engine designed for reuse in an expendable stage, yet they doing it. SLS is not sensible by design.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Well yes, but there is evidence that they are doing that, and also my understanding was that it was mandated by congress, not by the engineers working on the SLS.

    I doubt congress mandated that the SLS has optical tracking; and I have seen no evidence that they are going for the less sensible option (optical tracking on its own), so I will assume they are going for the more sensible one (optical tracking as a redundant system).

  • publiusr

    I want to see lots of LH2 up there for NTR–more than any EELV could carry.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    There always seems to be some sort of virus / spyware attached to their site.