NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon in 2024 have taken a step forward following a hot fire test of the core stage for the Space Launch System rocket.
The SLS will launch the Artemis I mission to the Moon and the hot fire is the final test of the so-called Green Run series which began in January 2020.
According to NASA, the test plan called for the rocket’s four RS-25 engines to fire for just over eight minutes, which is the amount of time needed to send the rocket to space following launch. The countdown and ignition were successfully executed but the engines shut down a little more than one minute into the hot fire and teams are assessing the data to determine what caused this.
For the test, the 212-foot core stage generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust, while secured in the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The hot fire test included loading 733,000 pounds of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen and igniting the engines.
In a statement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Saturday’s test was an important step forward to ensure that the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis I mission, and to carry crew on future missions. Although the engines did not fire for the full duration, the team successfully worked through the countdown, ignited the engines, and gained valuable data to inform our path forward.”
Support teams at Stennis provided high-pressure gases to the test stand, delivered all operational electrical power, supplied over 330,000 gallons of water per minute to protect the test stand flame deflector and ensure the structural integrity of the core stage, and captured data needed to evaluate the core stage performance.
“Seeing all four engines ignite for the first time during the core stage hot fire test was a big milestone for the Space Launch System team” said John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We will analyse the data, and what we learned from today’s test will help us plan the right path forward for verifying this new core stage is ready for flight on the Artemis I mission.”
“Stennis has not witnessed this level of power since the testing of Saturn V stages in the 1960s,” added Stennis Center director Rick Gilbrech. “Stennis is the premier rocket propulsion facility that tested the Saturn V first and second stages that carried humans to the Moon during the Apollo Program, and now, this hot fire is exactly why we test like we fly and fly like we test. We will learn from today’s early shutdown, identify any corrections if needed, and move forward.”
In addition to analysing the data, teams also will inspect the core stage and its four RS-25 engines before determining the next steps. Under the Artemis program, NASA is working to land the first humans on the Moon in 2024. SLS and the Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts to space, along with the human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, form NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.