NASA is testing a Megarocket engine upgrade ahead of future moon missions

The manned Artemis 5 mission to the moon won’t happen until 2028 at the earliest, but the mission and those after it will benefit from upgraded RS-25 engines, which NASA will use to power future iterations of its giant Space Launch System rocket.

This month’s first firing test of the newly redesigned RS-25 engine lasted 209.5 seconds, which is less than the planned 500 seconds, according to a NASA statement. The space agency conducted the test Dec. 14 at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Test footage is available on the Stennis Facebook page.

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The monitoring system automatically triggered early shutdown. Engineers with Aerojet Rocketdyne, developer of the RS-25 engine, and NASA are now looking at the data to evaluate the test and determine why the test ended prematurely. A future hot-fire test will eventually need to last the full duration, as 500 seconds (8.5 minutes) is the same amount of time it would take RS-25 to operate to send the SLS into space.

An RS-25 hot-fire test took place at the Fred Haise test stand at Stennis Space Center on December 14.

“Much like a launch, test campaigns are dynamic events that allow us to learn more about the SLS rocket’s hardware,” Johnny Heflin, liquid actuator manager for the Space Launch System at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in the release. “Preliminary data indicates that the engine was running at nominal performance.”

Failure to run the test to its full duration is not a problem. The upgraded engine will not be needed until the Artemis 5 mission, currently scheduled for 2028. Through NASA’s Artemis program, the United States is seeking to revisit the moon and, eventually, is planning manned flights to Mars. The recently concluded Artemis 1 mission has been a huge success, serving as a precursor to more complex trips to the Moon.

NASA currently has ten RS-25 engines taken from retired space shuttles and modified for use in the SLS core stage. The space agency had 16, but four of them, used during Artemis 1, are now at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. This will be the fate of the remaining 12, which will come into use during Artemis 2, 3, and 4. The SLS is an expendable rocket, requiring NASA and its partners to build new versions for each Artemis mission.

The updated RS-25 features a new power head component, nozzle, and control unit, the last two of which are yet to be installed. The Fred Haise test wing itself has seen some recent improvements, including work to improve the high-pressure water system in the mount, flame deflector, and thrust vector control system, among other modifications.

The engine, designated E10001, is delivered to the test stand in Stennis

The engine, designated E10001, is delivered to the test stand in Stennis

The final test at Stennis is in advance of the certification tests planned for early 2023. Once this is completed, Aerojet Rocketdyne can begin the production process, producing multiple units for future Artemis missions. The company is currently contracting with NASA to produce 24 of the new RS-25 engines.

Each RS-25 engine weighs approximately 7,800 pounds and generates 512,300 pounds of thrust. During Artemis 1 liftoff, the SLS produced about 8.8 million pounds of thrust, with energy contributions also coming from two solid rocket boosters.

more: The best spaceflight photos of 2022

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