The solid rocket booster roared to life on a test stand in Promontory, Utah, guzzling 6 tons of propellant each second for 126 seconds and generating more thrust than 14 four-engine commercial airliners.

NASA and Northrop Grumman Corp., the booster’s prime contractor, conducted a full-scale rocket booster test Tuesday. This booster is part of the Space Launch System rocket NASA is developing to create a sustainable lunar presence.

The duration of the test, just over two minutes, is how long the booster will ignite when launching astronauts to the moon — and eventually on to Mars.

Each launch of the rocket requires two boosters. The rocket’s first launch, propelling an uncrewed Orion capsule in the Artemis I mission, is slated for next year and its boosters are currently being assembled in Florida. Artemis II, the first crewed mission, is scheduled by 2023. Then the Artemis III mission would return humans to the moon in 2024.

A variety of booster tests have already been completed for these first three missions. Tuesday’s static fire was to evaluate potential new materials, processes and improvements for deep space missions beyond Artemis III.

The solid rocket booster, 177 feet long, stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, though on Tuesday it lay horizontally and secured to a test stand. Its five motor segments were filled with a propellant that had the consistency of a pencil eraser. Of the booster’s 1.6 million pounds, this propellant accounted for 1.5 million pounds.

On launch day, these boosters will be attached to the rocket’s core stage that’s being built by Boeing. Together, the two boosters and core stage (which is powered by four of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 engines) will produce 8 million pounds of thrust. The two solid rocket boosters produce more than 75 percent of this thrust during the first two minutes of ascent.

Ultimately, NASA is working to land the first woman and next man on the moon in 2024, though many consider this an aggressive timeline. In a blog post last week, NASA’s head of human spaceflight Kathy Lueders said the uncrewed Artemis I mission could launch by November 2021 — three years behind schedule.

Lueders also said the rocket’s development costs through the Artemis I mission increased to $9.1 billion, 30 percent more than the $7.02 billion development baseline cost set in 2014 when NASA was targeting November 2018 for the rocket’s first launch. A 30 percent increase in development costs requires NASA to notify Congress and not spend additional money beyond 18 months unless the program is reauthorized by law and the agency creates a new baseline for the program’s scope, expected costs and schedule commitments, according to the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

In her blog post, Lueders said Congress had been notified of the new cost and schedule commitments. She said NASA’s assessment occurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she remains “confident a November 2021 date is achievable.”


World news – US – NASA rocket booster burns 6 tons of propellant a second, generates more thrust than 14 commercial airliners

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