First SLS Booster Qualification Static Fire Test a Success

First SLS Booster Qualification Static Fire Test a Success

A two-minute static fire test of a booster segment for NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) was successfully completed this morning at Orbital ATK’s facility in Promontory, Utah.  It was the first of two qualification tests need to qualify the booster for flight as part of the SLS.  The second qualification test is expected next year.  

NASA has not announced a date for the first flight of SLS itself, saying only that it will be ready by November 2018.  That first flight, dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will carry a test version of the Orion spacecraft.  No crew will be aboard.   The SLS, its associated ground systems, and the test version of Orion all must be ready for that flight.   NASA has committed to a schedule for SLS and the ground systems to be ready by November 2018, but Orion has not yet completed its Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) review where such a commitment is made at the agency level.

The test today, Qualification Motor 1 (QM-1), was of a solid rocket booster (SRB) that will fire for about the first two minutes of an SLS launch, similar to the SRBs that were used for the space shuttle program.  Those were four-segment SRBs.  For SLS, a fifth segment has been added and that is what was tested today.  NASA called it the “largest, most powerful rocket booster even built.” Orbital ATK, which builds the SRBs,  said it produces 20 percent more thrust than the four segment version.  Orbital ATK’s Charlie Precourt said “The data from today and from our three development motor tests … confirms this is the most capable and powerful solid rocket motor ever designed.”

SLS will be powered by two of these SRBs plus four RS-25 main engines, which also were used for the space shuttle program; at the time they were referred to as Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs).   The two SRBs will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for Orion (or any other payload) to reach orbit. 

The initial version of SLS will be able to place 70 metric tons into Earth orbit.  The rocket is expected to be upgraded in future years eventually to lift 130 metric tons, more than the Saturn V used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon.  No humans have traveled beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) — where the International Space Station is located — since the last Apollo crew.  The goal for SLS and Orion is to once again send astronauts beyond LEO, although NASA currently does not plan to return humans to the lunar surface. Instead it is focused on activities in cis-lunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) as a “proving ground” to ultimately send people to Mars.

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