The rocket’s first mission beyond earth orbit isn’t expected until 2017, assuming the program doesn’t fall off a fiscal cliff. Right now, NASA engineers are busy finalizing the design of the launch vehicle, testing a 10-foot model in the agency’s transonic tunnel in Langley, Virginia.
“The test includes the largest integrated vehicle model to be tested in a wind tunnel for SLS,” says John Blevins, SLS Lead Engineer for Aerodynamics and Acoustics. “It will simulate the environment of transonic flight that the SLS rocket will navigate during its flight.”
The model will be exposed to speeds up to Mach 1.2. There are 360 pressure transducers spread across the surface of the model, and data is acquired at a rate of thirteen thousand scans per second, according to NASA. The information gleaned from the wind tunnel tests will provide insight into the structural forces the SLS will endure during launch and acceleration from subsonic to supersonic flight.