Four to five: Engineer details changes made to SLS booster
Orbital ATK’s Jessica Widrick is working to have two of the company’s five segment solid rocket boosters hoist NASA’s new super heavy-lift Space Launch System aloft. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — It has been more than forty years since humanity broke free of the bonds of Earth’s gravitational sphere of influence and headed out for points beyond. NASA is now working to correct that, to alter its course. The economic climate for a full renewal, was never in the offing and the agency and its itinerant contractors – found other ways to use existing, “legacy” systems – such as the Space Shuttle Program.
he shuttles employed two, four segment solid rocket boosters during each ascent. Built by what is now Orbital ATK. These ammonium perchlorate-fueled assistants helped loft a diverse-array of payloads and astronauts to orbital elevations, along with the crews of some 135 shuttle missions – for three decades, They are now being repurposed, redesigned and empowered – to send these crews much, much farther.
Jessica Widrick is a joints and seals metals design engineer with Orbital ATK; she is one of a new breed of aerospace engineers that has been tasked with preparing NASA’s new super-heavy loft Space Launch System booster for flight.
Widrick works out of Orbital ATK’s Promontory, Utah facility. As is the case with most engineers of her caliber – she is a specialist. Her particular focus includes the five-segment solid rocket motor (RSRMV), the Booster Separation Motors (BSMs), and SLS’ Launch Abort System (LAS).
However, that is not precise enough. Widrick’s occupation serves to ensure the safety and performance of some of the key components of these legacy systems. Her work includes all of the SRBs components, the gaskets, O-rings and thermal barrier systems and other key elements. There have been numerous modifications made to the boosters since the close of the shuttle era in 2011.
“The main difference between RSRM and SLS is the insulation change to an asbestos-free insulation so the material the insulation J-leg is composed of changed as well. Of course, biggest field joint/joints and seals change is still the low temperature capable O-rings and the ability to actually use their low temperature capability (due to elimination of heaters),” Widrick told SpaceFlight Insider.
In some cases, the changes that were made to produce these new boosters are as deceptively simple as new materials used in the place of those that were used prior to the planned first flight of SLS, slated to take place in 2018. As Widrick noted, the J-joint or J-leg configuration, was one of the things changed on the boosters’ design.
Interview with Orbital ATK’s Jessica Widrick detailing SLS’ five segment solid rocket boosters