NASA's Boeing moon rocket cuts short 'once-in-a-generation' ground test

Katie Ramirez
January 17, 2021

Mounted in a test facility at NASA's Stennis Space Centre in MS, the Space Launch System's almost 65 metre tall core stage roared to life for just over a minute - well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket's first launch in November this year.

Mounted in a test facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center in MS, the Space Launch System's (SLS) 212-foot tall core stage roared to life at 4:27 pm local time (2227 GMT) for just over a minute - well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket's first launch in November this year.

After final fueling and assembly, the Orion spacecraft will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Facility, where it will be hoisted atop the SLS booster rocket in preparation for its flight later this year, which will send it around the Moon and then back to Earth for a splashdown recovery.

The SLS was supposed to light its engines for about eight minutes, the length of time the engines will have to fire to propel the rocket on its orbital missions.

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To simulate internal conditions of a real liftoff, the rocket's four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines ignited for roughly 1 minute and 15 seconds, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust and consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants on NASA's largest test stand, a massive facility towering 35 stories tall. In a similar fashion, NASA hopes that this rocket will be the workhorse of Project Artemis, NASA's program for sending "the first woman and the next man to the Moon".

The core stage's firing is the eighth and final step in NASA's "Green Run", a program created to thoroughly test each part of the core stage ahead of SLS's first launch, called Artemis 1 - an uncrewed test flight now scheduled for November 2021. Not only was it the first time that the four RS-25 engines fired together, but the process also validated many key systems and allowed the mission controllers to gather data from the Core stage as its many integrated components worked together. "Still have four good engines, right?" Two of the solid-fuel boosters will strap to the core stage and provide about 75% of the force required to heave SLS off its launch pad and toward space during the first two minutes of flight.

"This powerful rocket is going to put us in a position to be ready to support the agency and the country in deep space missions to the Moon and beyond", John Honeycutt, SLS programme manager at Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said during a media briefing on Tuesday. This spacecraft is already under construction, with the main structural elements of the crew unit pressure vessel arriving at NASA's Michode assembly facility. Live coverage begins at 4:20 p.m. It was originally published at 12:47 p.m. EST on January 16, 2021.

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