NASA to unleash 1 million lbs of force in "can crusher" test

NASA testing will provide data for stronger future rocket design

nasa can crusher
NASA engineers next week will break something rather than build it  -- all in the name of rocket science.  The engineers will crush a  27.5-foot wide, 20-foot-tall aluminum-lithium cylinder with one million pounds of force until it buckles.  The resulting crush-test data will help verify the design and strength of new lightweight, safe and sturdy structures for future rockets.

NASA says its current crush or what it calls "knockdown factors" date back to pre-Apollo-era studies - well before modern composite materials, manufacturing processes and advanced computer modeling.

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NASA engineers at its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. will sandwich the "can" between two massive loading rings that will press down with almost one-million pounds of force on the central cylindrical test article forcing it to buckle.  The engineers have been testing the crusher on four, 8-foot-diameter aluminum-lithium cylinders. In preparation for the upcoming test, hundreds of sensors have been placed on the barrel section to measure strain, local deformations and displacement. In addition, advanced optical measurement techniques will be used to monitor tiny deformations over the entire outer surface of the test article.

"Spacecraft structures, especially fuel tanks, are designed to be as thin as possible, as every pound of vehicle structure sacrifices valuable payload weight and can dramatically increase the cost of flying a rocket," said Mark Hilburger, a senior research engineer in the Structural Mechanics and Concepts Branch at Langley and the principal investigator of the Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor project. "Looking toward future heavy-lifters, our goal is to provide designers greater confidence in how buckling happens in structures so we can develop lighter-weight tanks."

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