NASA's Space Launch System (SLS)
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS)

Oct 02, 2012–Promontory,USA (Techreleased) –ATK and NASA held an event to highlight progress made in manufacturing the first ground test motor and cost-saving process upgrades for manufacturing the solid rocket booster for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). These changes have reduced assembly time by approximately 46 percent, saving millions of dollars in projected costs for the SLS system.

ATK’s Value Stream Mapping (VSM) process, which is a company-wide business practice, allowed the employees to identify inefficient processes, procedures and requirements to help reach the target condition. Through this process, ATK identified more than 400 changes and improvements, which NASA approved.

“As we were challenged with decreased budgets and a more streamlined workforce, we knew we had to make changes in order to stay competitive, but we also know the importance of ensuring we deliver a safe and reliable product for America’s human space flight program,” said Charlie Precourt, general manager and vice president of ATK’s Space Launch Division. “Through the VSM process we are delivering an even higher-quality product for less cost than originally envisioned for the SLS program.”

Many of the process improvements identified through ATK’s VSM approach reduced the number of product moves and other redundant processes, limiting exposure and reducing the risk of anomalies during manufacturing. For example, in one area a segment was previously moved 47 times during manufacturing; the ATK teams were able to reduce those moves to seven, saving labor costs and improving reliability.

Another lean manufacturing change involved eliminating some of NASA’s requirements for redundant inspections by incorporating ultrasound technology in place of X-ray and other inspection tools. NASA approved all of ATK’s recommended VSM changes.

“NASA support and encouragement through this process shows its commitment to building the Space Launch System more affordably to ensure a safe, reliable and―most important―sustainable program for this nation,” said Precourt.

VSM improvements have been implemented throughout the manufacturing of Qualification Motor-1 (QM-1). Four segments have now been cast, and ATK will start integration of the motor in the test stand next month in preparation for a ground test in spring 2013.

“America’s next steps in deep space exploration build on the lessons learned from our nation’s rich human spaceflight history. By using the best-of-the-best from shuttle and improving on previous investments, we will produce the needed solid booster for the first SLS flights,” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We are encouraged by the progress being made at ATK. Their commitment to deliver a safe and high-quality rocket booster is vital as we build SLS to enable exploration to new frontiers in the solar system.”

As part of the event, representatives from NASA Headquarters and Marshall Space Flight Center thanked the ATK workforce for their successful VSM efforts and continued work in producing the first booster for the Space Launch System.

“Our workforce stepped up to the challenge, and our employees brought cost-saving ideas forward that were accepted by our NASA customer,” said Precourt. “These changes also pave the way for ATK in producing an Advanced Concept Booster that could be used to support missions throughout our solar system.”

In July, ATK was awarded one of four contracts to help reduce risk in the development of a new booster system for the Space Launch System. The ATK Integrated Booster Static Test consists of a ground test of an advanced booster design featuring advanced, high-performance propellant; a low-cost, lightweight composite rocket motor case; and an innovative and more affordable nozzle.

NASA’s Space Launch System will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and will back up commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station. Designed to be flexible for crew or cargo missions, the SLS will be safe, affordable and sustainable, to continue America’s journey of discovery from the unique vantage point of space. The SLS will take astronauts farther into space than ever before, while engaging the U.S. aerospace workforce here at home. ATK is under contract for six solid rocket boosters for the SLS program, including two for each of the first two, 70-metric-ton-flights of the SLS and two ground tests (QM-1 and QM-2).