space launch system test

Nasa completes test firing for rocket that could take astronauts back to the Moon

Image credit: reuters

Nasa has completed a test on an upcoming rocket that could eventually be used to transport humans to the Moon.

The Boeing-built rocket is the largest Nasa has ever used and it forms the core stage of its Space Launch System (SLS) which will be used in the Artemis I Moon mission.

While Nasa originally planned to launch a manned rocket to the Moon by 2024, the SLS has been beset with delays that could see it miss this target.

Nevertheless, it managed to fire its four RS-25 engines for 8 minutes and 19 seconds at Nasa’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The successful test, known as a hot fire, is a critical milestone ahead of Artemis I, which will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a test flight around the Moon and back to Earth, paving the way for future Artemis missions with astronauts.

Engineers designed the eight-part Green Run test campaign to gradually bring the SLS core stage to life for the first time, culminating with the hot fire. The team will use data from the tests to validate the core stage design for flight.

“The SLS is the most powerful rocket Nasa has ever built and during today’s test the core stage of the rocket generated more than 1.6 million pounds of thrust within seven seconds. The SLS is an incredible feat of engineering and the only rocket capable of powering America’s next-generation missions that will place the first woman and the next man on the Moon,” said Steve Jurczyk, acting Nasa administrator.

“Today’s successful hot fire test of the core stage for the SLS is an important milestone in Nasa’s goal to return humans to the lunar surface – and beyond.”

Nasa previously conducted a hot fire test of the SLS core stage in January, although the four RS-25 engines fired together for only about one minute in that instance before the test ended earlier than planned.

Following data analysis, NASA determined a second, longer hot fire test would provide valuable data to help verify the core stage design for flight, while posing minimal risk to the Artemis I core stage.

During the second hot fire test, the stage fired the engines for a little more than eight minutes, just like it will during every Artemis launch to the Moon.

The longer duration hot fire tested a variety of operational conditions, including moving the four engines in specific patterns to direct thrust and powering the engines up to 109 per cent power, throttling down and back up, as they will during flight.

“This longer hot fire test provided the wealth of data we needed to ensure the SLS core stage can power every SLS rocket successfully,” said John Honeycutt, manager for the SLS Program.

“During this test, the team conducted new operations with the core stage for the first time, repeated some critical operations and recorded test data that will help us verify the core stage is ready for the first and future SLS flights for Nasa’s Artemis program.”

The two propellant tanks in the SLS core stage collectively hold more than 733,000 gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to help fuel the RS-25 engines at the bottom of the stage.

The core stage has a complex network of flight software and avionics systems designed to help fly, track and steer the rocket during launch and flight.

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