NASA's dream of sending astronauts to Mars and other planets could soon become a reality after the space agency successfully tested a former shuttle engine, which will be used to power the Space Launch System (SLS) deep-space rocket.
NASA announced on Aug. 18 that it was able to fire an RS-25 booster rocket for 420 seconds during a test at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. RS-25 engines were once used to propel shuttle missions into space.
The recent demonstration is part of the space agency's development of a new system that will have enough lift to blast off its SLS rocket to farther reaches of space. NASA engineers plan to combine four Aerojet Rocketdyne-built RS-25 rockets with two solid booster engines in order to produce the power needed for the deep-space vehicle.
While RS-25 rockets were used as the primary engines for space shuttles before, NASA said these boosters will have to be able to operate at a higher level if they are to be properly used for the SLS.
Thursday's test was specifically designed to find out how the RS-25 would perform at such a high level and whether its control system will work well with that of the SLS rocket.
So far, the space agency has test-fired the RS-25 for the third time. The former shuttle engine will have to go through three more tests to let engineers have enough data on its performance. It will then be installed to the core stage of the SLS along with three other RS-25 rockets and blasted all at the same time.
"SLS is going to be the most powerful rocket ever built when it's done several years from now," NASA space shuttle astronaut Rick Mastracchio said. "It's going to have to throw up all this hardware into low Earth orbit so we can then take it to the moon and beyond, all the way to Mars."
New Lease On Life For Space Shuttle Engines
NASA has already transferred a total of 15 RS-25 rocket engines from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its facility in Mississippi. It included nine of the last Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) to be used by the agency. All of the former shuttle engines were still in good condition.
One of the engines, designated as E2059, was used during five Space Shuttle missions. It was first used to power the Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis on the STS-117, STS-122 and STS-125 missions. It was then transferred to the Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour for its last two space flights during the STS-130 and STS-134 missions.
NASA plans to use the E2059 shuttle engine as part of the second core stage of the Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2). The mission will serve as the first crewed flight of the SLS/Orion spacecraft.