NASA’s countdown to deep space continued Aug. 13 with the latest test of its Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Operators on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis conducted a 535-second test to collect engine performance data that will be used in readying the engines for SLS missions to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.
A variety of groups were invited by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Stennis Space Center to view the Aug. 13 test. These included NASA officials; local, state and national elected officials; representatives of major contractors involved in SLS work; social media enthusiasts; local, regional and national media; community leaders from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi; NASA Space Flight Awareness honorees; and Stennis employees. Guests were hosted on tours of Stennis facilities, including the Aerojet Rocketdyne engine assembly facility, and also had an opportunity to visit the Pegasus barge that will transport the SLS core stage from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Stennis and Kennedy Space Center in Florida for testing and launch.
An initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) SLS configuration, referred to as Block 1, will use four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines for the core stage, along with two solid rocket boosters, providing more lift to orbit than any current launch vehicle. The SLS will later be configured to provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions farther into our solar system.
The core stage for the first SLS flight– Exploration Mission-1 – also will be tested at Stennis, which will involve simultaneous firing of the four RS-25 engines just as during an actual launch. NASA is currently testing the RS-25 to adapt it to the new SLS performance requirements and operating environments such as more thrust, higher propellant inlet pressures and lower temperatures, and qualify an all-new engine controller.
Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engine work. The RS-25 engine gives SLS a proven, high performance, affordable main propulsion system for deep space exploration. It is one of the most experienced large rocket engines in the world, with more than a million seconds of ground test and flight operations time. A final test of the current RS-25 developmental engine is planned before the current test series concludes by early September. Testing of RS-25 flight engines will begin later this fall.