On Tuesday, June 28th, in northern Utah NASA and Orbital ATK will be performing final tests on their completed and operational new solid rocket booster. It is currently the largest existing model in the world.
The solid rocket booster is 177 feet (54 meters) long and its design consists of five segments. The fifth segment is what adds to the booster’s length as all previous solid rocket boosters had four segments. The four-segment boosters were successfully used for three decades.
The fifth segment was added in order to ensure that the rocket can safely travel to distant locations, in the current case that being Mars.
Testing will occur at Orbital ATK’s Promontory. The burn test will last for two minutes, in which dozens of factors of the solid rocket booster will be verified.
The Qualification Motor 2 will be tested while laying on its side. A proportionally large block of concrete will be holding it in place throughout the trial period. A climate-controlled stand housing will also be used for the simulation. The booster’s flight computer has also been optimized to simulate a genuine rocket launch.
NASA has stated that during the two-minute testing duration, over 530 instrumentation channels will be gathering data at the same time and measuring the appointed 82 design objectives.
Polybutadiene acrylonitrile propellant also referred to as PBAN, will be the fuel used during the testing. With the fuel being present in a solid-grain state, the booster will burn through 6 tons of PBAN every second.
Solid-state fuel is more efficient than liquid state fuel when it comes to rockets, but it does come with several caveats. One of them is that solid fuels alone cannot be used to throttle the propulsion.
The five segments of the boosters are designed to have varying amounts of fuel space, which results in different burn times of each segment. The various burn times are what will throttle propulsion, making the purpose of each segment similar to the speed gears on a car.
In order for the PBAN to remain solid and offer the trials optimal conditions, the booster has to keep an interior temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius). Once ignited, in a matter of milliseconds, the fuel’s temperature will spike to approximately 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (3315.5 degrees Celsius). This temperature will almost be as incendiary as the surface of the Sun, which burns at about 6,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
After all the qualifications are met, the new solid rocket booster design will be used with the Space Launch System. NASA’s newest heavy-lift rocket is currently planned to reach for the stars in 2018.
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.