Researchers at the University of Georgia are helping NASA determine if a key rocket component can withstand the rigors of the next generation of spaceflight. The bellows expansion joints serve several functions in rocket propulsion systems, perhaps most critically as connectors between fuel and oxidizer lines and the rocket's engines. NASA wants to make sure a flow-induced vibration phenomenon in the joints doesn't pose a risk for its new Space Launch System.

Stephen Higgins, graduate research assistant, with a space shuttle main engine at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. (Credit: Margaret Davis)

NASA currently uses a 30-year-old computer model based on empirical data to determine the potential stress on bellows joints. But now, the space agency is designing and building new joints outside the available database. To better assess the joints' ability to withstand the flow-induced stress, the team is developing a physics-based predictive model of the vibration phenomenon based on more modern modeling and simulation techniques.