In their continued quest to perfect testing articles for Orion — the initiative aiming to carry astronauts into deep space and possibly land on Mars — engineers successfully completed work on what’s called a Universal Stage Adapter for the Space Launch System’s rocket.
What this means: The adapter, which connects the rocket to Orion’s spacecraft, must provide enough power to ascend the actual flight article into low-Earth orbit and beyond.
Work on special foam panels took place inside Plum Brook’s Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility. Simply put, nowhere else in the world — or universe, for that matter — can perform the necessary sound-related tests to ensure all aspects of Orion can withstand extreme vibrations it’ll likely encounter in space.
Sound levels reached 148 decibels, equivalent to a noise louder than what a jet engine produces with a person standing about 100 feet away.
Engineers learned the foam can resist, and endure, harsh noise-related simulated conditions Orion.
“The Universal Stage Adapter needs to provide a reasonable acoustic environment in order to not damage potentially sensitive payloads and instruments that it will house during launch,” NASA spokesman Jimi Russell said. “Foam panels were placed on the inside of the barrel, and the barrel was then subjected to an acoustic environment similar to what will be experienced during a Space Launch System launch. Four different foam panel configurations were tested along with one baseline test on the barrel without any foam panels installed.”
For about three years, the NASA Plum Brook Station has served as a primary testing hub for activities related to Orion because of its one-of-a-kind experimental chambers. Workers previously analyzed Orion’s capabilities with solar power, temperatures and pyro shocks, which ensured it could separate when necessary.
Data obtained through testing helps NASA personnel best determine and understand Orion’s effectiveness before a scheduled launch, with crew aboard, to the moon in 2021 and Mars, potentially, sometime afterward.
What’s next at Plum Brook?
The actual Orion spacecraft heading into space will arrive at Plum Brook in early 2019 to undergo space simulated- and electromagnetic-related experiments.
Until then, workers have experimented with Orion’s test flight article, which featured a similar design of the actual vehicle destined for deep-space exploration.
“We have to perform a number of facility tests to ensure that the ground support hardware meets all of its requirements, that the facility is clean enough and that we can provide the extremely low pressure and widely varying thermal environments,” said Nicole Smith, the NASA project manager overseeing Orion’s testing at Plum Brook.