- Press Release
- Mar 24, 2023
NASA Exploration Systems Progress Report
NASA engineers are in the midst of a new series of tests that will aid development of the agency’s future space transportation systems.
The tests support development and integration of the Crew Launch Vehicle, Crew Exploration Vehicle and Cargo Launch Vehicle under the Constellation Program. The program is developing both crew and launch vehicles for NASA’s plan to return humans to the moon, Mars and destinations beyond.
Since June, engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Aerodynamic Research Facility in Huntsville, Ala., have conducted 80 wind-tunnel runs on a partial model of the Crew Launch Vehicle. The model includes a portion of the upper stage, the spacecraft adapter, the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the launch abort system. The abort system is designed to lift the crew clear of the propulsion stack before or during launch in the event of an emergency.
The tests use a 13-inch-long, 1.5 percent scale model in a 14-by-14-inch cross section wind tunnel to simulate how proposed vehicle shapes perform in flight. In the test tunnel, giant fans or high-pressure air generate artificial wind that flows over scale-model vehicles, engines or rockets through a wide speed range. The tests are being conducted between Mach 0.8 and Mach 4.45, or about 600 to 3,300 miles an hour. Engineers use this flow visualization to analyze shock waves and flow expansion characteristics of components before their designs are incorporated into space hardware.
This series is the latest step in a progression of wind tunnel tests that began in February. They are part of a coordinated partnership among NASA field centers and industry to set the foundation for design and development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle and Crew Launch Vehicle as an integrated system. This partnership includes Marshall; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; and Boeing at St. Louis, Mo.
Additional configuration tests are planned through July in the wind tunnel at Marshall. Those tests will serve as a foundation for more detailed launch vehicle design testing in the fall.
Engineers at Marshall also have completed preliminary tests of an “augmented spark igniter,” a critical engine component needed for in-flight ignition of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants that mix and burn in engine combustion chambers.
The test apparatus and a similar igniter will be used in development of the J-2X upper stage engine, an updated version of the powerful engine used to power the Saturn V rocket upper stages during the Apollo Program. The J-2X is planned for use in both the Crew Launch Vehicle’s upper stage and the Cargo Launch Vehicle’s Earth Departure Stage. The dual-use J-2X engine is an example of common hardware designed to simplify ground processing and reduce recurring operation costs.
During the igniter tests, engineers integrated the igniter assembly – spark plugs, propellant injectors and tube-like ignition torch – and fired it into a vacuum chamber. This simulated the conditions the Crew Launch Vehicle’s upper stage will experience when activated in low-Earth orbit. Future tests will chill propellants to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit prior to injection to simulate conditions between Earth and the moon, where the J-2X will be used to power the Earth Departure Stage.
Preliminary analysis showed the test igniter operated as expected. Detailed analysis is continuing.
Crew Launch Vehicle and Cargo Launch Vehicle development efforts include multiple project element teams at NASA centers and contract organizations around the nation. These efforts are led by the agency’s Exploration Launch Projects Office at Marshall. The office is part of the Constellation Program, hosted by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. Constellation is a key program of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.
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