Well, it's not finished yet, but the space agency just performed the latest ignition tests, and it was a sight to behold. The test firing occurred on Feb. 21 at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where the RS-25 engines reached their highest power level yet, according to NASA. It sent a thick fog of smoke across the launch pad.
"RS-25 engines are former space shuttle main engines, which were designed more than 40 years ago to provide a specific power level, categorized as 100 percent thrust," the agency explained in a statement.
NASA Tests Space Launch System
The operators brought the engines to a 113-percent thrust level for over four minutes in a full-duration test. How was this possible? Well, as NASA explains, it modified the RS-25 engines to make them far more powerful than they were decades ago.
"Through the years, the engines were modified to provide additional thrust to 109 percent of its original designated level." This means that the current engines are able to surpass the full charge of the previous designs. NASA says improving the performance of its rockets is crucial if it wants to send humans to deep space.
When the time comes that it's ready for official launch, the Space Launch System engines will be able to produce, collectively, 2 million pounds of thrust, NASA explains. But why stop there? NASA will add boosters and bring the total thrust to 8 million pounds. That will allow the Space Launch System, at least in its present configuration, to carry 26 metric tons of cargo into space. Eventually, it'll be able to carry an astonishing 45 metric tons via later configurations.
Space Exploration Is Exciting Again
There's been plenty of excitement in the space exploration industry of late, most recently when Elon Musk's company SpaceX shot the Falcon Heavy into space and retrieved two of its rockets safely. Being that Falcon Heavy is categorized as a super heavy-lift launch vehicle, the mere fact that it launched successfully — let alone the fact that two rockets landed back without a hitch — is a major milestone not just for SpaceX, but for the space exploration and rocket industry as a whole.
Thoughts about space exploration? What about NASA's Space Launch System? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!