NASA put a core stage of its enormous new SLS rocket to a critical test that ended prematurely on Saturday, January 16. But although the next-generation booster’s engines shut-down earlier than planned, NASA denied the test was a failure.
Video shot at the launch showed smoke and flames dramatically spewing from the SLS RS-25 rocket engines, as they fired in unison for the first time
As ignition occurred at 5.30pm ET local time (10.30pm GMT) the rockets roared to life while anchored to a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.
The 212ft core stage generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust,
This involved 700,000 gallons (2.6 million litres) of cryogenic fuel pumping through the engines as they exploded into action for a little more than one minute – far shorter than planned.
NASA’s ‘mega rocket’ engine test was expected to run for 485 seconds – more than eight minutes.
This is the approximate duration the engines will be required to burn during take-off, when they eventually power NASA’s Artemis Moon program rocket.
NASA revealed in a subsequent blog post how the four RS-25 engines fired for only a little more than 60 seconds.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, who attended the test, said in a statement: ”Not everything went according to script today.
“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.”
NASA analysts have not had enough time to confirm exactly what caused the early shutdown in Saturday afternoon’s SLS engine test.
Flight controllers could be heard during the test referring to an “MCF” (Major Component Failure) supposedly concerning engine Number 4 on the SLS booster.
NASA SLS program manager John Honeycutt revealed how after the one minute-mark, cameras caught a flash on the engine’s protective thermal blanket.
However, its cause and significance are still to be determined.
Space experts believe it is too early to know for certain if a second hot-fire test will be required at Stennis.
Another option for NASA is to conduct another test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
This is the site from which SLS is set to launch the unmanned Artemis 1 Moon mission before the end of 2021.
Similarly, it remains too early to conclude if Artemis 1 will still be able to launch this year.
NASA chief Mr Bridenstine when discussing whether a 2021 launch for Artemis 1 is still in the pipeline, admitted: ”I think it’s still too early to tell.
“As we figure out what went wrong, we’re going to know kind of what the future holds.”
The Green Run series of tests began in January last year, when the stage was delivered from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and installed in the B-2 test stand at Stennis.