(NASA) – Engineers have taken a crucial step in preparing to test parts of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will send humans to new destinations in the solar system. They installed on Thursday an RS-25 engine on the A-1 Test Stand at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
The Stennis team will perform developmental and flight certification testing of the RS-25 engine, a modified version of the space shuttle main engine that powered missions into space from 1981 to 2011. The SLS’s core stage will be powered by a configuration of four RS-25 engines, like the one recently installed on the A-1 stand.
“This test series is a major milestone because it will be our first opportunity to operate the engine with a new controller and to test propellant inlet conditions for SLS that are different than the space shuttle,” said Steve Wofford, SLS Liquid Engines Element manager. “This testing will confirm the RS-25 will be successful at powering SLS.”
Early tests on the engine will collect data on the performance of its new advanced engine controller and other modifications. The controller regulates valves that direct the flow of propellant to the engine, which determines the amount of thrust generated during an engine test, known as a hotfire test. In flight, propellant flow and engine thrust determine the speed and trajectory of a spacecraft. The controller also regulates the engine startup sequence, which is especially important on an engine as sophisticated as the RS-25. Likewise, the controller determines the engine shutdown sequence, ensuring it will proceed properly under both normal and emergency conditions.
“Installation of RS-25 engine No. 0525 signals the launch of another major rocket engine test project for human space exploration on the A-1 Test Stand,” said Gary Benton, RS-25 rocket engine test project manager at Stennis.
The SLS is designed to carry astronauts in NASA’s Orion spacecraft deeper into space than ever before, to destinations including an asteroid and Mars. NASA is using existing and in-development hardware and infrastructure, including the RS-25 engine, to the maximum extent possible to enable NASA to begin deep space missions sooner.
Testing of engine No. 0525 begins in the coming weeks on a test stand originally built in the 1960s for Apollo-era engines that helped launch the lunar missions. The stand has since been used for several major testing projects, and NASA spent almost a year modifying the structure to accommodate the RS-25 engine.
The SLS Program is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is on contract with NASA to adapt the RS-25 engines for SLS missions.
I have to tell you that your facts and data cannot be argued with…so I wont. You are spot on and we may have passed the point where the SLS makes sense. I was not aware Orion was a shell for the test later this year and assumed it was more of an all up test, that is a disappointment. Between SLS and JWST the NASA budget is taking a huge hit. JWST is making progress but is very expensive, not allowing other programs to be funded. With the SLS not being complete until 2030 it may be a dinosaur by the time we get there and private industry will have passed it by. Time will tell but Darwin was right, as rocket evolution moves forward the SLS seems to be stuck in the 60s, at some point nature will take it’s course and and the dinosaur will become extinct. I just wonder how much it will wind up costing.
NASA has spent more on the J-2X engine than SpaceX has spent on the development of a whole family of engines, and let it be noted, this RS-25 that is being tested is not the new, disposable version that is supposed to make the SLS cheaper to fly, but leftovers from the Shuttle program that are too expensive to be thrown away past the existing sets. Do note that SpaceX has just put information online that shows that the F9 has made a soft landing on water. By late this year or early next, they will be bringing F9 first stages in for soft landings on Terra firma. When they do that with the pieces of an F9 Heavy, the cost of putting let’s say, 40 mT (to be conservative) into LEO will have diminished so much that the cost of putting two of them (more payload than SLS Block I) will be as little as one tenth or less of the cost of a SLS launch. Three of them will put up more tonnage than the Block II. Assembly on orbit is no longer the difficult and dangerous task that it once was considered to be. There is no need for the SLS. Actually, the SLS will destroy the U.S. space program by sucking up the dollars for needed science payloads and putting those dollars into one-off missions that will accomplish little useful and nothing permanent. And that is on top of the absurd amount of money being spent on the Orion. One writer made the absurd claim that “Orion will be the first reusable manned spacecraft that parachutes back to Earth for a water landing”, as if that is a mark of distinction…more likely a mark of extinction. SpaceX has already shown that it is designed to be reused after a water landing, but by the time that Dragon2 is being used for manned flights, it will be able to make soft landings on that same Terra firma mentioned above as well as parachute landings on almost any surface in an emergency.
Orion has already sucked up over $5Billion with major subsystems nowhere near completion. The unit to be thrown up this fall is little more than a hollow shell with guidance systems and a heat shield. The launch abort system will certainly not be functional with full testing delayed for four years at current funding levels, while the life support systems and the Service Module are not even prototyped or fully funded. There are currently no missions the Orion is suited for without additional mission specific hardware that is not even designed, much less funded. Strangely, the SLS is more fully funded, but still lacks funds for completion of even the first test unit due in 2017. The GAO says and NASA confirms that they are at least $400 million short for that first flight, not to mention short funds to complete the Orion test article for that flight, with GAO saying that more than $10 billion more will be required for the system to be used for the 2021 flight and beyond. Can you imagine what Elon would do with even a fraction of that money. Give him that money and he would be having breakfast on the Moon or Mars by 2021. As far as I can tell, he could run the test planned for the Orion shell this fall with the current Dragon and F9, for less than 5% of the money being spent for the Orion and the Delta IV launch vehicle. Disgusting!