The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket engine was tested over the weekend as part of preparations for NASA’s Artemis I lunar mission. Instead of simulating the complete rocket launch of eight minutes, the four RS-25 rocket engines switched off after just over a minute.
NASA has so far given no reason for the shutdown. In the live broadcast on NASA TV, however, one of the engineers mentioned the failure of a main component (“Main Component Failure”) in one of the four drives around 45 seconds after the ignition. In this phase the system runs automatically. About 20 seconds later, the rocket engines switched off automatically.
The rocket engine test was designed to last eight minutes. This is exactly the time for the SLS to launch and for the rocket to reach space.
Success despite cancellation
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine named that Drive test but still an important development step, to ensure that the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis I lunar mission. SLS is supposed to transport astronauts one day. Although the drives did not fire for the entire time, the team was able to collect important data.
SLS project manager John Shannon from propulsion manufacturer Boeing stated a few days before the propulsion test that in the event of a crash all necessary data collected within around 250 seconds would. Now the rocket engines have only been running for a quarter of that time.
NASA is now analyzing the collected data and will then decide whether another propulsion test is necessary. This could take place in three to four weeks at the earliest, if the rocket engines do not have to be repaired or partially replaced.
Delayed moon mission still on schedule
According to NASA boss Bridenstine, it is still too early to talk about a possible postponement of the Artemis I moon mission planned for the end of this year. This depends on the reason for aborting the drive test. If it was easy to fix, the rocket engines could be taken to the Kennedy Space Center and prepared for Artemis I launch.
SLS should actually start with an Orion capsule as early as 2017. NASA had to make the maiden flight of its giant rocket differently. In Artemis I, an unmanned Orion capsule is supposed to be shot to the moon and circle it once before it comes back.