October 27th, 2015
Saint-Gobain Seals reaches a high-performance mark by producing a cryogenic seal of exceptional size (more than six feet wide) for NASA’s “Space Launch System (SLS)” project, which is commissioned for deeper space exploration -- beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) to an asteroid, Mars and other distant destinations. Although this launch system replaced the retired Space Shuttle, it was built using proven hardware from the space shuttle era and previous successful exploration programs as well as cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology in order to reduce development time and cost. SLS’ first mission, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will go into space in 2019 and uses Saint-Gobain Seals’ OmniSeal® RACO® spring-energized seals. Designing and manufacturing large seals of this size continue to be very challenging in cryogenic applications; however, Saint-Gobain Seals’ long standing experience of designing sealing solutions for the space industry in various demanding conditions have made the difference to customers who need successful and proven solutions. A major contributing factor to the successful design and manufacturing of the critical seal parts was due to Saint-Gobain Seals’ global operational resources, which supports close collaboration with the customer and team members to meet precise and functional requirements as well as assist in installation and product testing.
They will also be working with packaging contractors as the seal is considerably larger than usual and needs careful coordination. Manufacturing large seals is not new to the organization as they have also developed similar seals for the oil and gas market, in particular for turret swivel stack systems that have increased in size and complexity. This new large seal marks the continuation of Saint-Gobain Seals’ sealing and polymer products used in space exploration and their collaboration on NASA projects, starting as far back as the Space Shuttle Program and progressing with the International Space Station, Falcon 9 rocket, Atlas V launch vehicles, Delta IV Heavy rocket, Mars rover Curiosity, and now the SLS project.
Since OmniSeal® seals handle extreme pressure conditions ranging from vacuum to several hundred PSI (a hundred bar) and temperature conditions ranging from cryogenic to many hundreds of degrees, they are ideal for the SLS, the world’s most powerful rocket. Since the launch vehicle is designed to be flexible and evolvable, being upgraded over time with more powerful versions, the seals will be able to support future demanding payloads including robotic scientific missions to places such as Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
The evolved configuration development of the SLS will stand 384 feet tall, weigh 6.5 million pounds and generate 9.2 million pounds of thrust for EM-1 at liftoff. The 22-day EM-1 mission will help confirm the integrated system performance of the SLS launch vehicle and unmanned Orion capsule as it travels a stable orbit beyond the moon and returns to Earth. The mission will break the distance record reached by the most remote Apollo spacecraft, and then 30,000 miles farther out (275,000 total miles). The second SLS flight, Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), will carry four astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Related to this topic: AEROSPACE