NASA’s rocket charged with taking the agency back to the moon fired its four main engines Saturday afternoon, but the test in Mississippi was cut short after a malfunction caused an automatic abort.
The 212-foot Space Launch System core stage fired its four RS-25 main engines at Stennis Space Center just before 5:30 p.m. EST, sending a plume of exhaust towering above the test stand. The NASA center is located about 30 miles northeast of New Orleans.
“We did get an MCF on engine four,” a control room member said less than a minute into the test fire, using an initialism that stands for “major component malfunction.”
“Copy that, but we’re still running,” another official said. “Still have four good engines, right?”
The engines fired for 12 more seconds after the exchange before an automatic shutdown was called. The test was meant to last eight minutes – the full duration needed for the booster during its Artemis program liftoff – but only ran less than two minutes.
Prime contractor Boeing previously said the test would need to run at least 250 seconds, or more than four minutes, for teams to gather enough data to move forward with transport to Kennedy Space Center and launch sometime before the end of the year. An exact plan moving forward, which could mean a second test and delay before transport to Florida, had not yet been released by Saturday evening.
Saturday’s firing was the last milestone in the “Green Run” series of testing, which has eight phases.
When it does launch on Artemis I, SLS will boost an uncrewed Orion capsule toward the moon for a weeks-long test flight, setting the stage for future Artemis missions with astronauts on board.
The Boeing-built core stage, under development for nearly a decade, uses previously flown space shuttle main engines. Combined, all four launched a total of 25 shuttle missions including the last flight – STS-135 – in July 2011.
NASA said the RS-25 engines have been upgraded and refurbished since their last missions and the agency has placed an order with Aerojet Rocketdyne, recently acquired by Northrop Grumman, for 24 brand new versions.
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