By Martin Burkey
How do you put the world’s largest rocket under a microscope?
One piece at a time, of course.
NASA’s Space Launch System – SLS – will be the world’s most powerful, capable rocket. It will send intrepid explorers, their spacecraft, their landers, their habitats, and all their other equipment to survive and thrive in deep space.
But, first, it has to survive launch. SLS is an extreme machine for operating in extreme environments – 6 million pounds going from zero to around 17,5000 miles per hour in just 8 minutes or so after liftoff. Some parts are minus 400 degrees F. Some parts are 5,000 degrees. Extreme.
So NASA works hard to make sure everything works as planned, including the largest part, the core stage – 212 feet long, 27 feet in diameter, and weighing more than 2 million pounds all gassed up and ready to go.
NASA and core stage prime contractor Boeing are building hardware at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana for the first flight in 2018. Engineers have put the design through numerous computerized structural analyses and simulations, but that’s not the same as actually cutting, welding, and assembling giant metal panels, ...