NASA’s future Moon rocket completes critical hot-fire test

NASA test-fired the core stage of its massive Space Launch System rocket on Thursday, rattling its south Mississippi test facilities for a duration well beyond what engineers needed for a clean demonstration. The team carried out its second attempt for the hot-fire run after cutting short an initial firing in January. Pending a review of the test’s data, engineers are aiming to ship the rocket stage to Florida ahead of its debut test flight to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program.

Mounted in a behemoth test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the 212-foot-tall rocket stage’s four RS-25 engines ignited together for over eight minutes to test the conditions of a real liftoff. NASA and its prime contractor, Boeing, needed to reach at least four minutes of continuous test time to call it a success. With eight minutes, “they should have gotten what they need,” NASA spokeswoman Leigh D’Angelo said.

GIF by Nick Statt / The Verge

“They clearly got the full duration they were after, which is really great news,” NASA’s Green Run campaign manager, Bill Wrobel, said right after the engines shut down. “Clearly there’s a lot of data that has to be analyzed.”

The engine run was a crucial last step in the SLS program’s so-called Green Run test campaign. If the data checks out, it will make its way via boat to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final assembly. The rocket’s first launch, Artemis I, will send an uncrewed Orion astronaut capsule on a trip around the Moon early next year.

SLS is NASA’s centerpiece rocket for its Artemis program, an ambitious campaign to return humans to the Moon and later to Mars. Billed as the strongest rocket since the Apollo program’s Saturn V, its decade-long development has been marred by billions in cost overruns and delays. By the time it flies for the first time, its costs may reach nearly $20 billion, according to NASA’s inspector general.

Boeing, the prime contractor that builds the core stage, said the test “demonstrated successful core stage operation and will be used to help certify the stage for flight.”

“Deep space exploration took an important step forward today,” the statement added.

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