NASA conducted the first hot fire of a new RS-25 test series this week, beginning the final round of certification testing ahead of production of an updated set of engines for the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. The engines will help power future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond.
At NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the RS-25 engine underwent a successful hot fire test that lasted for 550 seconds, longer than the 500 seconds engines must fire during an actual mission. The engine was also fired at the 111% power level, up to the level required during a normal SLS launch.
The hot fire marked the first in a series of 12 tests scheduled to take place through 2024. The tests are a key step for lead SLS engines contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne, an L3Harris Technologies company, to produce engines that will help power the SLS rocket, beginning with Artemis V.
The test series will collect data on the performance of several new key engine components, including a nozzle, hydraulic actuators, flex ducts, and turbopumps. These components have similar design features to the ones that completed the initial certification test series at the South Mississippi site in June.
The new engines are built with advanced manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, to reduce the cost and time required. The SLS rocket will consist of four RS-25 engines and two solid rocket boosters, which will generate more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. This configuration will enable the SLS rocket to carry heavy payloads and crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit.
NASA’s Artemis program is an exciting initiative that aims to return humans, including the first woman and the first person of color, to the Moon for lunar exploration and ultimately prepare for future missions to Mars. The Space Launch System (SLS) is the only rocket that can carry Orion spacecraft, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in one trip.
The new engines will start flying on the Artemis 5 mission, which will fly no earlier than 2029. The first use of the Space Launch System was launched in November 2022 as the Artemis 1 mission, with robots and mannequins aboard. According to the plan, the crewed Artemis 2 launch will take place in 2024, while Artemis 3 aims to put astronauts down near the lunar south pole in late 2025 or 2026. The Artemis 4 will attempt another landing in 2028.