The solid rocket booster roared to life Wednesday 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.
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.
“It is really impressive to see a rocket that large fire off into the desert,” Bruce Tiller, manager of the Space Launch System boosters office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said during a news conference.
NASA and Northrop Grumman Corp., the booster’s prime contractor, conducted a full-scale rocket booster test Wednesday. This booster is part of the Space Launch System rocket NASA is developing to create a sustainable lunar presence.
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.
The Orion spacecraft for Artemis I recently completed an important review and has been approved for flight, NASA said on Tuesday.
A variety of booster tests have already been completed for the first three missions. Wednesday’s static fire was to test and evaluate new propellant ingredients and a nozzle design that could be used for deep space missions beyond Artemis III.
On launch day, the 177-foot-long solid rocket booster will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty. Its five motor segments will be filled with a propellant that has the consistency of a pencil eraser. Of the booster’s 1.6 million pounds, this propellant accounts for 1.5 million pounds.
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.”
“To pull it off now after 6 months of what we’ve been through is very impressive,” he said, “and NASA is very appreciative of that effort.”
World news – US – NASA rocket booster undergoes test in Utah in preparation for future Moon and Mars shots