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NASA tests booster for most powerful rocket for space mission

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016,14:03 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Washington | A booster for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, has been successfully tested, an advance that may pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars.

The booster was fired up for its second qualification ground test at test facilities in Utah in the US, NASA said. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before 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. 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, he said.

The booster was tested at a cold motor conditioning target of 4.4 degrees Celsius – the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached over 3,300 degrees Celsius, NASA said. 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.

Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster. When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power SLS on deep space missions. The solid rocket boosters, built by NASA contractor Orbital ATK, operate in parallel with SLS’s main engines for the first two minutes of flight.

They will provide more than 75 per cent of the thrust needed for the rocket and Orion spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. SLS hardware is currently in production for every part of the rocket. We’re on track to launch SLS on its first flight test with Orion and pave the way for a human presence in deep space, said John Honeycutt, SLS Programme manager at NASA.

The first full-scale booster qualification ground test was successfully completed in March last year and demonstrated acceptable performance of the booster design at 32 degrees Celsius ┬áthe highest end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range. Testing at the thermal extremes experienced by the booster on the launch pad is important to understand the effect of temperature on how the propellant burns.

The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 77-tonne lift capability. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions, with a 115-tonne lift capacity.