March 18 (UPI) — NASA successfully test-fired the massive SLS moon rocket Thursday in rural southern Mississippi for 8 minutes, simulating a launch for a lunar mission.
The test-firing of the rocket’s core stage engines began at 3:37 p.m. at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis. NASA hailed the test as a major milestone on the agency’s return to crewed lunar missions.
“They clearly got the full duration they had planned, which is really great news, and I think you heard the applause,” Bill Wrobel, NASA’s manager for the test, said during a live broadcast.
“They had no test criteria violations that would have prompted an early shutdown. That was really good news.”
NASA will analyze large amounts of data from the test, and send the rocket to Kennedy Space Center in Florida after refurbishment.
The space agency still hopes to launch the rocket, along with two side boosters, into space later this year for an uncrewed test flight around the moon, NASA acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said during an interview Wednesday.
The test was among the loudest, most powerful rocket firings at Stennis since the Apollo era. Jets of water cooled the test stand during the fiery demonstration, creating clouds of steam that reached high into the sky.
“This is a major milestone in advancing our goals and objectives … to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon, and to return to the moon,” Jurczyk said after the test Thursday.
The goal of the test was “to operate the core stage long enough for things to reach, like thermal equilibrium and equalized pressure, so we get that data and have confidence in the operation of the core stage,” Jurczyk said.
Teams of workers for NASA and The Boeing Co. loaded more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercooled, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen into the tanks to power the four RS-25 engines.
“It was the smoothest test I think we’ve ever run and several other people on the team said that — for any test they’ve been part of,” Julie Bassler, a NASA manager for the rocket, said in a news conference Thursday.
A similar test of the 212-foot-tall rocket stage in January was cut short after a little more than 1 minute because safety parameters had been set too conservatively, according to NASA.
The agency postponed another planned attempt in February due to a faulty valve component in the liquid propulsion system. That component was replaced.
By the end of 2020, NASA had spent more than $ 17 billion on the SLS program — including almost $ 6 billion added after the original budget and schedule were adopted.