Press Release

Marshall Space Flight Center 2015: Advancing Technology to Power NASA’s Journey to Mars

By SpaceRef Editor
December 21, 2015
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From making rocket engines roar to analyzing the first 3-D printed parts created on the space station and developing new technologies, 2015 was a year of discovery and progress as the team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, continued advancing critical systems needed for human space exploration to the Red Planet and deeper into the solar system than ever before.

“We are proud that the journey to Mars comes through Marshall,” said Todd May, acting director of Marshall. “We’ve tested state-of-the-art propulsion and life support technologies and accomplished significant milestones toward building the Space Launch System rocket including completing the rigorous critical design review.”

The SLS team also conducted a full-scale test of a powerful, five-segment solid rocket booster during the QM-1 booster qualification test in Promontory, Utah; completed a summer-long series of hot-fire tests on RS-25 engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; and started building two new test stands at Marshall to ensure the rocket’s core stage can withstand powerful launch forces.

The world’s largest spacecraft welding tool, located at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and managed by Marshall, joined elements of the massive liquid oxygen and hydrogen tanks for the SLS core stage. Other SLS successes for the year included analysis of the core stage avionic systems and fabrication at Marshall of a test version of the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter.

One of the largest composites manufacturing robots in America was installed at Marshall, capable of building large, lightweight composites parts for space vehicles. Advanced manufacturing techniques, including additive or 3-D printing, are critical for deep-space exploration and are being researched by Marshall engineers.

With support from the Marshall team, the first 3-D printed parts made on the International Space Station were returned to Marshall for analysis. Another Marshall team used a large 3-D printer, or contour crafter, to build large structures with Martian simulant. In-space manufacturing aboard spacecraft and on planets and moons is critical for long-term exploration missions. Marshall engineers also 3-D printed the first full-scale copper rocket engine part and tested several complex 3-D printed rocket engine components.

2015 marked 15 years of continuous human presence aboard the space station. Marshall payload controllers work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year inside the Payload Operations and Integration Center, our control center for science experiments on the space station. To date, Marshall has worked with 83 countries, managing 1,700 science experiments on manufacturing methods, pharmaceutical research, human health and performance, plant growth and other fields of study.

The Marshall team also opened a new SERVIR hub in Bangkok, Thailand, helping track environmental change and assessing damage from natural disasters. Situated in five locations across the globe, SERVIR hubs use satellite-based Earth monitoring system to help countries act on environmental issues and disasters.

Expanding NASA’s reach throughout the solar system and beyond, Marshall manages several exploration programs and missions, including the New Horizons spacecraft, which made a historic flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which helped identify the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected and is shedding light on the makeup of dark matter.

Future scientists and engineers from schools around the world participated in Marshall’s educational and exploratory activities. These include the Human Exploration Rover Challenge, the Student Launch challenge and competitions sponsored by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, such as the Sample Return Robot Challenge, the CubeQuest Challenge and the 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge.

“As I reflect on this year of great accomplishments, of advancing technologies that benefit everyone on Earth while making it possible for explorers to reach ever deeper into space, I am very proud of the Marshall team and eagerly anticipate our future,” Marshall’s May said. “I know our best is yet to come.”

To watch a Marshall Year in Review video, visit:

To view a photo gallery of the top 15 most-seen images as judged by our Flickr community, visit:

NASA's Rocket Booster fires!

For more information about NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.