STATES CHRONICLE – The Qualification Motor 2 entered its final round of testing, on Tuesday, June 28th at Orbital ATK’s Promontory. The solid rocket booster unleashed one million pounds of fuel in approximately two minutes.
Once the testing began, the display was, for lack of a better word, awe-inspiring.
The Qualification Motor 2 is a five-segment solid rocket booster. The QM2 was in its final testing because NASA wants it to be the booster that safely brings man to Mars, without going adrift along the way.
A solid rocket booster uses solid-state fuel. In the case of the QM2, the fuel used will be polybutadiene acrylonitrile propellant, which is more commonly known as PBAN. Solid rocket boosters usually burn out several tons of fuel per second. The QM2 burns, on average, 6 tons of PBAN per second.
Throttling the propulsion is very difficult to do when using solid-state fuel. Going straight against the gravitational pull is also problematic. SRBs are segmented because each segment has a different volume hollowed out. Each segment will be burning fuel differently, ensuring that more fuel is burnt in later segments.
Most SRBs have four segments because no other rocket had been previously built to get people to Mars. There were also several technological drawbacks which NASA was able to overcome in the last decade, bringing 5-segment SRB technology to reality.
For the testing, the Orbital ATK team first had to make sure that the computers would properly simulate gravity, segment switching, and leaving the atmosphere, all while believing that the SRB was in fact attached to an actual rocket.
For the duration of the testing, the SRB was set horizontally and pinned into place. Once the testing began, having any malfunctions would either mean a fuel explosion or the SRB unhinging and launching itself into something before the fuel explosion.
Another important factor scientists had to take into account was the fuel temperature. The PBAN inside the QM2 is usually at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but the optimal temperature before ignition is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The team had to cool the fuel carefully over several nights before actual testing and also had to makes sure that it would stay at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Final Testing of the Solid Rocket Booster
Engineers on the ATK Promontory were met with several technical glitches on the morning of the launch. Re-coding and ensuring everything would be alright pushed back the launch by an hour.
The testing facility then witnessed one of those rare situations which can happen in testing but will never happen in outer space – a cow wandered into the testing area, dangerously close to the QM2. After a brief pause, the wandering cow tripped and slid down the hill on which the solid rocket booster was mounted on. It chose not to return and instead cautiously walked away.
Once testing began, the Solid Rocket Booster Qualification Motor 2 behaved admirably, passing the hundreds of minute assessments and measures with flying colors.
With NASA’s five-segment solid rocket booster passing its final trials, the Space Launch System can continue to advance. The SLS will have two QM2 boosters taking it from the blue planet to the red.
Image Courtesy of Pixabay.