NASA has achieved a major milestone in its Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by the end of 2024. On January 16th, engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi conducted a full-duration 500+ second test on one of the four RS-25 engines that will power the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the upcoming Artemis I and II missions.
Successful Engine Test Paves Way For Artemis I Launch
The recently completed test firing of RS-25 development engine No. 0528 provides further validation of the engines that will be used on the SLS rocket that will send the Orion spacecraft around the Moon later this year. This critical “hot fire” test lasted for 535 seconds – the same length as the engines will need to fire during launch on the Artemis I mission.
All four RS-25 engines performed as expected during the test:
NASA engineers were specifically looking to certify new engine components like the engine controller unit during this hot fire test. Data from the test is still being analyzed, but so far everything indicates that this goal has been achieved.
With the RS-25 engines one step closer to final certification for the first Artemis missions, NASA is on schedule for launching Artemis I later this year. This uncrewed test flight around the Moon will pave the way for the Artemis II mission that aims to carry astronauts in 2024 – landing them on lunar soil for the first time in over 50 years.
Long History Set To Power Lunar Future
The RS-25 engine has a long history with the Space Shuttle program, where it gained a reputation for its extreme reliability over 135 missions. During the development of the SLS rocket, NASA decided to upgrade and reuse 14 remaining RS-25 engines left over from the shuttle era rather than design a completely new engine.
Upgrades were focused on streamlining and modernizing the engine to make it simpler and more affordable to operate. This included the creation of new engine controllers manufactured with modern electronics and reduced part counts.
Testing relics of the past to power missions of the future has not been without challenges, but NASA engineers have proven creative at troubleshooting issues as they arise. For example, prior to this most recent test, engineers needed to overcome a leaky valve and a nitrogen supply problem.
Engine Tests Continue as Artemis I Launch Nears
NASA has one more hot fire test of an RS-25 engine scheduled before the Artemis I launch later this year. This will serve to fully certify the entire engine system for flight. Once certified, the four RS-25 engines destined for Artemis I will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where they will be integrated with the SLS rocket.
After liftoff, the engines will fire for approximately 8 minutes to send the Orion spacecraft into a translunar trajectory. During this time, the engines must perform perfectly to achieve the mission goal of demonstrating Orion’s systems in the space environment and ensuring a safe re-entry, descent, and splashdown prior to the first crewed Artemis flight.
Meanwhile, NASA continues working towards an ambitious launch cadence to meet the goal of boots on the Moon by 2024. Plans are already underway to test components of the engines that will be used for Artemis III and beyond. Continued hot fire testing and analysis of resulting data will be critical over the next 12 months as the first crewed lunar return mission comes closer to reality.
Overall, January’s RS-25 engine test has provided a timely success to maintain momentum as NASA enters a crucial year for making the next era of human lunar exploration happen.
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