NASA begins new moon rocket engine tests, still evaluating if another Green Run test will happen

RS-25 engine testing series slated for first half of 2021

NASA continues to test the RS-25 engines that will send astronauts atop the Artemis rocket, known as the Space Launch System, to the moon.

Engineers fired up an RS-25 engine Thursday evening for about 8 minutes on the test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi kicking off a series of test fires this year.

According to NASA, they plan to repeat the test six more times totaling 3,650 seconds of testing during the first half of the year. Each hot fire runs about 8.5 minutes, about the length of time an engine would fire for an actual launch to send SLS into space.

[Watch the rocket engine test at the top of this story]

NASA says the tests will provide important data for Aerojet Rocketdyne as the contractor begins building new RS-25 engines for future SLS flights.

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The test fire comes after the first full “Green Run” test of the SLS rocket’s core stage with all four engines was cut short earlier this month following an automatic shutdown.

The Space Launch System core stage was slated to fire its engines on the test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on Jan. 16 for eight minutes but barely fired for one minute. The hydraulic system for one engine exceeded safety parameters, NASA officials said, and flight computers shut everything down 67 seconds into the ignition.

During a call Jan. 19 call with reporters following the first Green Run test, agency leaders remained positive that NASA’s goal of sending humans back to the moon by 2024 and the first SLS test launch, known as Artemis-1, could happen within the current timeline.

John Honeycutt, NASA SLS program manager, said that the core stage undergoing testing is intended for launch and engineers want to preserve the hardware.

“It’s what I call the golden egg and we only have one at this point, and we have to do a test on it but it’s going to be flight hardware and we gotta keep it safe,” Honeycutt said.

The SLS rocket currently undergoing testing will launch the Orion spacecraft, sans crew, around the moon on its first test flight before launching astronauts to the lunar surface. That Artemis-1 launch is scheduled for later this year from Kennedy Space Center if NASA and its contractors can stay on target.

There is a limitation to how many times the core stage can “tank,” when it is filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen, which could also factor into whether NASA repeats the long-duration hot fire. Every time NASA runs a wet dress rehearsal, which has happened a couple of times already, it takes one of those nine lives away from the rocket hardware.

Another wet dress rehearsal will have to occur in Florida ahead of launch. At this rate, the 212-foot core stage made by Boeing is down to about six “tanks” on its lifespan.

After the Green Run test, the core stage was set to be sent down to Kennedy Space Center where it will finish being assembled and liftoff from launchpad 39B. The halted test has delayed that trip but it’s unclear for how long.

In a news release regarding the RS-25 engine testing, NASA said the Green Run team continues to evaluate if a second hot fire test of the core stage is required.