NASA’s Space Launch System Test Fire

NASA’s newest, most anticipated project, the Space Launch System, is underway, and preparations are taking place. Dubbed an extended space shuttle booster rocket, the world’s largest solid rocket booster was scheduled for a test firing to ensure its competence for it to be part of NASA’s newest endeavor.

Horizontally strapped in Promontory, Utah at Orbital’s ATK T-97 test stand, the rocket compromises of parts designed after earlier space shuttle missions.

The Space Launch System test fire, known as Qualification Motor Qualification Motor-1, began at 11:30 AM EDT, going for 126 seconds as intended for the mission. The golden-colored flame coming from the booster through the Mach 3 nozzle has a temperature hot enough to turn sand into glass, about 4,500 degrees F°. The booster weighs 801 tons, and is 12 feet in diameter and 154 feet long.

The new booster has five segments, one more than those used for shuttle missions. Aside from three new sections, 23 parts come from old shuttle missions, while ten come from ground tests to make up the test motor, with an ability of 22-million horsepower or 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The rocket fuel is a mix of iron oxide, ammonium perchlorate, and HB polymer, blended with aluminum powder and an epoxy curing.

Alex Priskos, manager of SLS Boosters Office at Marshal in Florida, has stated, “Years of work and testing have gone into preparing us for this qualification test. We can’t stress enough what a big deal this is in preparing the rocket for flight.” There were 52 test-firings for the shuttle, going back as far as 1977, up to the last in February 2010.

The boosters will be used for its first two space flights, in addition to four RS-25 engines. This will provide enough thrust to escape Earth gravity in the first two minutes, the solid boosters making nearly 75 percent of the lift needed.

An unmanned Orion spacecraft will be carried by the SLS to low-Earth orbit, with the shuttle having a 77-ton lift capacity.

Early 2016 has been targeted as the date for the second test-firing for the SLS, continuing the engineering for the planned five-segment motors for the shuttle mission, while 2018 is the target date for the launch of the SLS to outer space.