Colorado Company Leads Design Effort For NASA’s Liquid Hydrogen Rocket Fuel Tank Test Stand

Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Fred Deaton

Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Fred Deaton

December 18, 2015 – Merrick & Company was contracted by NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, for the architectural and engineering design of the liquid hydrogen fuel tank (LH2) test stand for the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Leading the design and overseeing project construction is Merrick structural engineer, Jennifer Speers, PE, SE.

“Jen has been tireless in her devotion and technical attention to all phases of this project. The fact that she is the only woman on the technical or construction team, is overshadowed by the fact that she is simply one heck of an engineer. Designing a structure of this magnitude that can withstand the forces that the SLS rocket fuel tanks will experience during launch is a monumental technical feat,” according to Chris Sherry, PE, Merrick Senior Vice President and COO.

The new test stand is designed to accommodate future tests of different tank sizes and other equipment, in addition to the SLS core stage liquid hydrogen tank. It is being built in Marshall’s West Test Area on the foundation of the stand where the Apollo Saturn V F-1 engine was tested during the 1960s.

When construction is complete, hydraulic cylinders at Test Stand 4693 will push, pull and bend the liquid hydrogen tank of the SLS’s massive core stage to subject the tank and hardware to the same loads and stresses they will endure during launch. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall, will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.

The 4693 structure will have a twin-tower configuration and be made with 2,150 tons of steel. The liquid hydrogen tank will be placed in the stand vertically, and loaded with liquid nitrogen for stress testing. A second test stand also is under construction at the Marshall Center and will be used to test the liquid oxygen tank.

Marshall recently hosted a media day to showcase the rising construction of the two-tower test stand which included attendance by NASA’s director, Charles Bolden, and astronaut Butch Wilmore.

The 215-ft test stand will be completed by 2016 to allow for testing to begin in 2017. The first launch of the integrated SLS and Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft is set for 2018. Future missions could include an asteroid landing, a crewed Mars mission, and an uncrewed mission beyond Mars.

Merrick & Company is employee-owned and has its corporate headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colorado. They specialize in engineering, architecture, design-build, surveying, planning, and geospatial solutions.