NASA powered up its third RS-25 engine hot fire test of the new year on February 24, on the Fred Haise Test Stand at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Operators fired the engine past recent testing at the 111% power level up to 113% for a period of time. NASA is testing RS-25 engines to help power the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on future deep space missions. Initial SLS missions will send the agency’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
Work is underway inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare the first SLS for the upcoming launch of the uncrewed Artemis I mission, which will pave the way for future flights with astronauts to explore the lunar surface and prepare for missions to Mars. Artemis missions will land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.
SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket and the only one capable of sending the Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission. Four RS-25 engines, firing simultaneously, will generate a combined 2 million pounds of thrust to help power SLS’s ascent.
The RS-25 engines for the first four SLS flights are upgraded space shuttle main engines and have completed certification testing. RS-25 engines for subsequent missions will fire at 111% of their original power level to help launch SLS. Testing at 113% power level at Stennis demonstrates a margin of safety for operating the engine at the higher thrust.
Each engine test in the current series at Stennis provides valuable operational data to NASA’s lead contractor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, on new components manufactured with state-of-the-art fabrication techniques as the company begins production on new RS-25 engines. The testing is part of NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s effort to use advanced manufacturing methods, significantly reducing the cost and time needed to build new engines.
For NASA’s February 24 test, engineers fired the RS-25 developmental engine for a full duration of about eight-and-a-half minutes (500 seconds), the same amount of time the engines must operate to help send SLS to space. SLS, Orion, commercial human landing systems, and Gateway outpost in orbit around the Moon are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.
RS-25 tests at Stennis are conducted by a combined team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Syncom Space Services operators. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.