Inching closer to send world’s most powerful rocket to Mars, US space agency NASA on Tuesday successfully fire-tested a booster for the Space Launch System (SLS) at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah.
This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS is ready in 2018 for the first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, marking a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Red Planet.
“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.
“Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space,” he added in a statement.
The two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight.
Engineers now will evaluate test data captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.
When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power SLS on deep space missions.
The solid rocket boosters, built by NASA contractor Orbital ATK, operate in parallel with SLS’s main engines for the first two minutes of flight.
They will provide more than 75 per cent of the thrust needed for the rocket and Orion spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravitational pull.
“Today’s test is the pinnacle of years of hard work by the NASA team, Orbital ATK and commercial partners across the country,” added John Honeycutt, SLS programme manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.
“SLS hardware is currently in production for every part of the rocket. NASA also is making progress every day on Orion and the ground systems to support a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We’re on track to launch SLS on its first flight test with Orion and pave the way for a human presence in deep space.”
The first full-scale booster qualification ground test was successfully completed in March 2015.