A booster for the world’s most powerful rocket lit up the Utah desert overnight as NASA successfully tested a key component of its Space Launch System (SLS).
It was the last full-scale test for the booster before the SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s 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 today, 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 two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight.
The propellant was chilled to around 4 degrees Celsius so engineers could monitor the effects of temperature on how the propellant burns. Steering and a new type of insulation were also tested.
NASA plans to send humans to Mars in the near future. The space agency has previously floated the 2030s as their target for putting humans on the red planet.
Last year, six NASA recruits began a year-long simulation of life on Mars, living under a dome near a volcano in Hawaii.
The experience is designed to explore how humans will respond to the isolation of a mission to Mars – scientists estimate the trip will take between one and three years.