Construction of the A-3 Test Stand at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center is approaching another milestone with delivery and installation of 14 water, isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and liquid oxygen (LOX) tanks.
Nine of the tanks already have been delivered and installed, with the remaining five to arrive on-site in upcoming weeks. The focus then will turn to delivery and installation of the test cell diffuser. That work is expected to begin later this year and be completed by spring 2011. General construction work on the test stand also continues.
"Installation of the tanks moves us to the next step in construction," A-3 Project Manager Lonnie Dutreix reported. "This is a major project for Stennis and for NASA, and it remains fully on schedule for completion and activation in 2011."
NASA authorized construction of the A-3 stand to provide high-altitude testing on the J-2X engine in development. The engine is a centerpiece of the agency's plan to go beyond low-Earth orbit, back to the moon and possibly beyond.
The tanks recently installed will support the chemical steam generators to be used on the stand. Nine three-module chemical steam generator units – isopropyl alcohol is the chemical involved – will be installed at A-3. Steam produced by the generators will be used to reduce pressure inside the test cell diffuser, allowing operators to simulate altitudes up to 100,000 feet.
With that simulation, operators will be able to ensure the J-2X engine will start in space. Such testing is key; the J-2X must operate in space within the Constellation Program, NASA's plan to return beyond low-Earth orbit in upcoming years.
The chemical steam generator units will be fueled by the three LOX and two IPA tanks recently installed. All five of those tanks are 35,000 gallons each. The nine other tanks installed will provide the water needed to generate steam; each water tank holds 39,000 gallons. The tanks are 65 to 85 feet tall and weigh 270,000 to 320,000 pounds each.
The water and IPA tanks were manufactured by Taylor Forge Engineered Systems Inc. in Paola, Kan. They were shipped by rail to nearby Port Bienville, Miss., then transported by truck to Stennis Space Center. The LOX tanks were manufactured by Prentex Alloy Fabricators Inc. in Dallas and followed a similar delivery pattern. The Texas company also is manufacturing the large LOX tank and the large liquid hydrogen tank that will be placed on top of the A-3 steel structure to provide fuel for rocket engines tests.
The test cell diffuser is being manufactured and installed by American Tank and Vessel Inc., which has several locations. However, all work on the test cell diffuser is being done in nearby Lucedale, Miss. The company also will help install the LOX and liquid hydrogen tanks on top of the stand next summer.
Completion of the A-3 Test Stand will bring a unique capability to Stennis, Dutreix explained. The stand will allow operators to conduct full-duration tests (the amount of time the engines will have to fire during an actual flight) on full-scale engines and to gimbal the engines (rotate them in the same way they must move during flight to ensure proper trajectory), all at simulated altitudes of up to 100,000 feet.
"No other stand in the country allows all three of those aspects at such simulated altitudes at the same time," Dutreix said. "Other stands have one or two of those capabilities, but the A-3 puts them all together.
"It's easy to view this construction as just an engineering project," Dutreix continued. "But when you stop and think about it, we're building something pretty important to the future of space exploration and pretty special in the field of rocket engine testing. That's exciting."
For information about Stennis Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/.
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