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Flight Performance and Stability of Space Launch System Core Stage Thrust Vector ControlThe Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage (CS) Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system is comprised of eight mechanical feedback Shuttle heritage Type III TVC actuators and four RS-25 engines, each attached to a Shuttle heritage gimbal block/bearing. The Core Stage TVC shares vehicle control authority with the SLS 5-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) during boost phase flight, and is the sole means of vehicle flight control during in exoatmospheric flight following SRB separation.

TVC responses during Green Run Hot Fire (GRHF) testing revealed that the TVC did not meet its performance specifications. Step and frequency responses exhibited unexpected departures from prior laboratory data and modeled behavior. Post-test analysis determined that the characteristics of the structure and gimbal friction are significantly influenced by the thrust-loaded conditions, and the command avionics exhibited a small but important gain nonlinearity. Using the available test data, the design team augmented the flight control TVC models to bound the observed results and include the additional fidelity needed for vehicle flight control analysis so as to build sufficient rationale for flight certification.

Prior to the Green Run tests, “simplex” linear models typically used for flight control analysis did not include gimbal friction and other nonlinearities owing to long-standing assumptions that these effects were negligible in the Shuttle Orbiter TVC system. Following the Green Run findings, simulation analysis of the flight dynamics in the time and frequency domain revealed the propensity for a flight control limit cycle oscillation (LCO) if friction and structural compliances fell near the edges of test-predicted bounds. While the “most probable” models did not predict an in-flight LCO, the SLS Program conservatively proceeded with a system-wide evaluation and ultimate acceptance of the possibility for a small amplitude, low-frequency TVC LCO in flight. A final validation of the extensive test and modeling effort occurred when the first flight of SLS successfully demonstrated the fully integrated performance of the vehicle’s TVC system

This paper is the final installment in a seven-paper series surveying the design, engineering, test validation, and flight performance of the Core Stage Thrust Vector Control system. In this paper, the development of flight rationale in light of the TVC responses observed in Green Run is discussed, along with a review of the flight telemetry illustrating the correlation of the preflight predictions with the observed performance.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
John H. Wall
(Mclaurin Aerospace Dallas, Texas, United States)
Colter W. Russell
(Mclaurin Aerospace Dallas, Texas, United States)
Jeb S. Orr
(Mclaurin Aerospace)
Abran Alaniz
(Mclaurin Aerospace)
Stephen G. Ryan
(Manufacturing Technical Solutions)
Date Acquired
January 13, 2023
Subject Category
Launch Vehicles and Launch Operations
Spacecraft Design, Testing and Performance
Report/Patent Number
AAS 23-158
Meeting Information
45th American Astronautical Society Guidance, Navigation, and Control Conference(Breckenridge, CO)
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
Technical Review
Single Expert
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