NASA got one step closer to its mission of launching the Space Launch System (SLS) to Mars by this week putting the world’s most powerful rocket booster through its paces in a ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah.
Tuesday’s launch — as seen in the video and photo gallery accompanying this article — was the second time the rocket boosters have been tested in this way — and the last prior to lift-off in 2018 for a test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, representing a key milestone on the much-anticipated Journey to Mars.
“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test … and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”
The ignited booster reached Earth-scorching temperatures of almost 6,000 degrees during its two-minute test — following which NASA scientist will evaluate data gathered from 530 different instrumentation channels on the booster.
“What NASA needed to see was that the solid rocket boosters could fire for two minutes at maximum thrust, which is exactly what is going to happen in the eventual launch situation,” Michael Wall, senior writer for Space.com, who specializes in reporting on Mars, tells Digital Trends. “Since the stress on the boosters is the same during a ground test as it will be during the proper launch, it’s a way of testing whether the rocket boosters are performing as planned. Fortunately, the test went as well as could have been expected. It’s a major milestone — and we’re now on track to launch the SLS for the first time in 2018.”
Speaking with Digital Trends, Dr. Ken Kremer, a former science and space consultant to NASA, says that: “The amazingly successful test of the new 5 segment booster for NASA’s mammoth SLS rocket was essential to confirming that the rocket achieved the required design criteria to propel astronauts back first to the Moon in the next decade and then hopefully soon thereafter to the Red Planet, to achieve science riches we can only dream of today – for the benefit of all humankind.”
And, hey, in the meantime we get a pretty dazzling pyrotechnics display back on terra firma!