NASA conducted an ignition test on the engines of its giant new SLS rocket on Saturday, but they stopped earlier than expected, the US space agency said.
This “hot fire” test, which took place at the Stennis test center in Mississippi (south), was to last a little over eight minutes – the time it took to ignite the engines in flight – , but these turned off after a little over a minute.
“The teams are studying the data to determine what caused this premature shutdown, and they will decide what action to take,” Nasa said in a statement.
The heavy SLS (Space Launch System) rocket is a powerful launcher intended to carry the Orion spacecraft, as part of the Artemis program back to the Moon.
Although it was cut short, the test of the RS-25 engines provided valuable information for future missions, NASA said.
“Saturday’s test was an important step in ensuring that the main stage of the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis 1 mission, and to transport a crew on future missions,” said the NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“Although the engines did not run the entire time, the team worked successfully during the countdown, fired the engines and got some valuable data,” he added.
The causes of their premature shutdown are not yet known, but SLS program manager John Honeycutt told reporters that a lightning bolt was seen in a thermal protection blanket on one of the motors and the data was being analyzed. .
“In my opinion, the team made a lot of progress today, we learned a lot about the machine,” said John Honeycutt.
The Artémis 1 mission, which will test the new SLS heavy rocket with the Orion capsule without humans on board, is scheduled for the end of 2021. Artémis 2 will take astronauts around the Moon in 2023, without landing on the moon. Finally Artemis 3 will send two astronauts to the lunar soil, including the first woman, in theory in 2024.
In total, in its configuration for Artemis 1, the SLS rocket will be larger than the Statue of Liberty and more powerful than the famous Saturn V which took American astronauts to the Moon from 1969 to 1972.
NASA later targets the construction of an “Artemis base camp” on the moon, scheduled for the end of the decade, on condition that the next US President, Joe Biden, and Congress agree to fund the tens of billions of dollars. required.