Wind Tunnel Testing Underway For More Powerful Version Of NASA’s Space Launch System

First Posted: Dec 26, 2016 05:19 AM EST

NASA engineers have started running tests in supersonic wind tunnels to develop the next and more powerful version of the world's most advanced launch vehicle, NASA's space launch system, that could carry humans to deep space.

If this would be successful, the space agency would have the ability to send humans into deep space and explore other planets for signs of life.

What Are Wind Tunnels?

According to NASA, wind tunnels are large tubes with air moving inside. They are used to mimic the actions of an object in flight and scientists also use wind tunnels to learn more about how a spacecraft will fly.

Wind tunnels have powerful fans that can move air through the tube. Scientists can test the object, from small models of a vehicle to a piece of a vehicle. Usually, special instruments are used to measure the force of the air on the object or craft.

The new wind tunnel tests are for the second generation of SLS, which could deliver a 105 metric ton (115 tons) capacity and will be 364 feet tall.

"We expect that at the end of this test series we will have all the aerodynamic flight data needed for the upgraded rocket," John Blevins, SLS lead engineer for aerodynamics and acoustics at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, said as reported by Executive Gov. "We'll be ready for the first flight with a crew, targeted as early as 2021, and subsequent flights," he added.

The Space Launch System (SLS)

The development of the 322 feet tall SLS is well underway, which could lift about 70 metric tons
(77 tons). For its first test flight, the rocket will carry an unmanned Orion spacecraft beyond the Moon and return to the Earth, deploying 13 small satellites in deep space. The second SLS flight with Orion will carry about four astronauts on a mission to the Moon that could prove a ground for the technologies needed for NASA's plan of sending humans to Mars.

"Aeronautics leads the way in the design of a new rocket," Jeff Bland, SLS discipline lead engineer for Integrated Vehicle Structures & Environments at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said as reported by "The first leg any journey for spacecraft launched from Earth is a flight through our atmosphere," he added.

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