Mardi Gras Day is typically very special for those of us who live in the greater New Orleans region. Millions flock to the city to enjoy the last day of Carnival before Lent begins. The problem is when you live here for a long time, Mardi Gras can become tedious. Many of us leave town to avoid the hubbub. This year I was thrilled to receive an invitation to participate in a NASA Social at the nearby Stennis Space Center. The new budget was being released which meant a State of NASA presentation from Deputy Director Randy Galloway and then a behind the scenes tour of the facilities.
Samone Faulkner, Public Affairs Specialist, led our NASA Social group on our tour of Stennis. She is a stellar representative of the space center. She treated us like VIPs which was greatly appreciated.
Deputy Director Randy Galloway spoke about the 2017 budget during his State of NASA presentation. There was a bump in the budget which will be used mainly for infrastructure projects for Stennis. Progress will continue on their work testing the RS-25 engines that will be used to power the SLS. He then answered questions from the media and NASA Social participants.
Bryon Maynard, B-2 Project Engineer, spoke to us at the B Test Stand about the preparations being made for the SLS Core Stage Testing. This will test the core of 4 RS-25 engines in their flight configuration. When the SLS comes together on the pad for launch, it will have two new uprated SRBs attached to it. The 16 Shuttle Legacy RS-25D produces 512,000 lbs of thrust (109% power) and the SRB produces 3.6 million lbs to thrust. Like everyone we met at Stennis, Mr. Maynard was quite enthusiastic about his work.
You can see where the SLS Core will go on the right, Stand B-2.
Then we went to the A-1 Test Stand where individual RS-25 engines are prepared and each individual engine is tested to get the OK before moving on to be used for the SLS Program. Jeff Henderson, A-1 Test Stand Director, led us on an informative tour of the facility.
You can see where the pipe for cryogenic fuel runs (next to Henderson) into the test stand. Cryogenic engines are powered by liquid, super-cold propellants, liquid-hydrogen and liquid-oxygen. Liquid hydrogen exists nominally at about -420ºF and liquid oxygen runs out at about -320ºF to 330ºF. You take two super-cold propellants and they have extremely high energy stakes. Put them together and combust them, and they release a lot of energy. When hydrogen and oxygen come together their by-product is water, as opposed to a lot of other rocket engine propellants.
Inside the A-1 Test Stand, technicians were working on an RS-25 engine that will be tested in the near future. (http://www.rocket.com/rs-25-engine)
The RS-25 from another angle…
From the roof of the A-1 Test Stand, you could see several other facilities at Stennis. Here is the A-3 Test Stand that was intended to test the J-2X in the near vacuum environment that mimics @ 100,000 feet in altitude. It is currently unknown what future project will utilize the A-3 Test Stand.
The A-2 Test Stand as seen from the roof of the A-1 Test Stand. The A-2 Test Stand was the site for multiple J-2X engine tests. Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA’s SLS engine builder, disassembled the three J-2X test engines and put the parts in storage.
The E Test Complex is used by NASA’s commercial partners for testing components.
We finished our tour at the Aerojet Rocketdyne Engine Assembly Facility where General Manager, Mike McDaniel, led us on a very enthusiastic tour. He was quite proud of the work his team has accomplished with the RS-25 and the RS-68A engines. We learned that the differences between RS-68A and RS-25 are evident in their turbopump design. While SSME (RS-25) required 170 individual parts for its LOX pump and 200 components were part of the LH2 pump, RS-68 only needs 40 LH2 pump parts and 25 parts for the LOX pump. The RS-68A is used for the Delta-IV. Aerojet Rocketdyne has the contract to build new RS-25 engines to use once the existing stock of 16 RS-25s has been used for the 1st four SLS missions. Being a sensitive area, photography was not permitted. Mr. McDaniel was kind enough to take a photo of our group in front of an RS-68A engine which was cleared by NASA for our use.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day participating in the Stennis NASA Social. I am looking forward to applying again when the next RS-25 test occurs. That will be one impressive sight to behold.