Testing is under way by engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., to lay the foundation for developing the Crew Launch Vehicle, the agency’s future launch vehicle system.

Sixty-six wind tunnel tests were conducted on a 16.5-inch scale model of the vehicle. The tunnel is 48 inches long with a 14-inch by 14-inch cross section. Wind tunnel “flights” are used to assess new geometric configurations before designs are incorporated into space vehicles.

In the tube-like, tunnel structure, giant fans or high-pressure air generate artificial wind to flow over vehicles, engines, rockets or scale-model hardware, helping scientists determine flight performance characteristics of new concepts.

The first, two-week entry in the test series began in December and was performed at Marshall’s Aerodynamic Research Facility. The facility is used for concept validation of space launch vehicles. Additional testing continues this month.

The initial test data are the foundation for more detailed testing this spring and summer. Bigger vehicle models will be used in larger wind tunnel facilities at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

The scale model for the Marshall tests included the crew capsule, service module and escape tower. The model simulated the full Crew Launch Vehicle take off load. NASA’s Constellation Program is developing both crew and launch vehicles as it follows NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration by returning humans to the moon and preparing for voyages to Mars and beyond.

Engineers also conducted flow visualization tests. The imaging is used to identify shock waves and component expansions similar to those experienced during supersonic flight. The test series was intended to provide the first actual crew launch vehicle configuration data for guidance, navigation and control systems analysis. Testing was performed over a Mach .5 to 4.96 range.

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