MRO Magazine

Orbital ATK Completes Installation of World’s Largest Solid Rocket Motor for Upcoming Ground Test

May 9, 2016
By Business Wire News


Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, in partnership with NASA, has completed installing the second Space Launch System (SLS) booster qualification motor, QM-2, in a specialized test stand in Utah in preparation for a June 28 static-fire test. QM-2 is the second of two Orbital ATK-developed motors to support qualification of the boosters for NASA’s SLS, which is a heavy-lift rocket designed to enable exciting new deep space exploration missions. The first qualification motor, QM-1, completed a successful test last spring.

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The five-segment solid rocket motor that will be used for NASA's Space Launch System has been instal ...

The five-segment solid rocket motor that will be used for NASA’s Space Launch System has been installed in a specialized test stand and is being prepared for a June 28 ground test in Promontory, Utah. (Photo: Business Wire)

“Testing before flight is critical to ensure reliability and safety when launching humans into space,” said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division. “This ground test is an important step in qualifying NASA’s new five-segment solid rocket motor, the largest solid rocket motor ever built for flight, for planned SLS missions to deep space.”

While last year’s QM-1 test validated motor performance at the upper end of the propellant temperature range, Orbital ATK personnel are cooling QM-2 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit to test its lower temperature capabilities against the required temperature range. Lying horizontally in the test stand, the motor is 154 feet in length and 12 feet in diameter. When fired, QM-2 will produce 3.6 million pounds of maximum thrust.

Orbital ATK and NASA will use measurements from more than 530 data channels to evaluate motor performance, acoustics, motor vibrations, nozzle modifications, insulation upgrades, Booster Separation Motor structural dynamic response and nozzle vectoring parameters. The full-scale motor test will further improve the safety, technology and knowledge of solid rocket motors.

The SLS five-segment motor is based on the design heritage of the flight-proven solid rocket boosters used on NASA’s Space Shuttle and incorporates new technologies and updated materials.

“Throughout the Space Shuttle Program, we regularly monitored and enhanced our motor design, and we have made further modifications to our booster for NASA’s new SLS,” said Precourt, a four-time space shuttle astronaut and former chief of the astronaut office. “Having personally experienced the power of these motors and been a part of these modifications, I can attest to their reliability.”

The SLS, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, provides a flexible deep space exploration platform to take humans and cargo to multiple destinations across our solar system. Orion successfully experienced its first flight test in December 2014, orbiting twice around the Earth and flying as far away as 3,600 miles – more than 15 times farther than the International Space Station and farther than a human spaceflight vehicle has traveled in 40 years.

The first test flight of SLS and Orion together, called Exploration Mission-1, is scheduled for 2018. EM-1 will use two of Orbital ATK’s five-segment solid rocket boosters.

A network of hundreds of suppliers representing 49 states supports the SLS and Orion programs. Orbital ATK has 29 key SLS booster suppliers across 16 states including Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Recent SLS and Orion milestones include:

  • In April, Orbital ATK completed casting propellant into the first of ten segments (the left-hand aft) for the 2018 EM-1 launch
  • The EM-1 Orion crew module is about to undergo pressure testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and the EM-1 service module structure is now in Bremen, Germany, for integration operations
  • Launch Abort Motor (for Orion Launch Abort System)
    • Motor Structural Qualification Test completed in January
    • Case Structural Qualification Test completed in March
    • Structural Test Article Inert Casting completed in March
  • In March, Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA test-fired the first RS-25 flight engine, E2059, for 500 seconds at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi
  • Last year, the RS-25 program completed the first development engine series of tests at NASA Stennis to confirm the upgraded engines can withstand the demanding operating conditions of SLS
  • Boeing is welding flight hardware for the massive Space Launch System core stages at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and collaborating with NASA on testing of the SLS avionics – guidance and control systems – at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

About Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier. Its main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition; satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs approximately 12,000 people in 18 states across the U.S. and in several international locations. For more information, visit

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