Avionics system built for Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has been powered up for the first time at Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama representing an important milestone towards a 2017 test flight.
Nasa technicians have integrated the avionics and flight system that will guide the SLS rocket, keeping it on its route and controlling its engines. The teams are about to commence laboratory testing in order to tune the system prior to the first test flight, which is expected to take place in 2017. The systems have been arranged in a flight configuration to allow engineers at Nasa's Integrated Avionics Test Facilities to run simulations of conditions the vehicle will experience during launch.
"We continue to make good progress developing SLS," said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA. "The avionics are like the central nervous system for the launch vehicle. They’re of critical importance and testing them early helps us build a more robust rocket."
The SLS rocket will be the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, capable of carrying a capsule with a human crew aboard to Mars and beyond. During the 2017 test flight, the rocket is expected to lift an unmanned Orion capsule to low Earth orbit. Eventually, the rocket should be able to lift up to 130 tonnes.
The currently developed avionics and the flight computer will be housed in the rocket's core stage. When completed, the core stage will be more than 200 feet tall and store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the rocket's RS-25 engines.
Nasa is working on the SLS together with prime contractor Boeing. While Boeing has provided the flight computer and avionics hardware, Nasa is in charge of the integration and testing.