All eyes were recently on the lesser-known Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi where, in mid-August, NASA completed one of the last tests of an engine that will help to propel its Orion crew capsule on future deep-space missions—maybe even a manned mission to Mars.
When the Space Launch System sends the Orion spacecraft into orbit, its first stage will be powered by four RS-25 engines, an old design used as the main engine for NASA’s shuttle program. But the engine has undergone a number of changes to work with the SLS, including designs to deal with higher propellant inlet pressure, lower temperatures, and a new engine controller unit.
The test at NASA’s largest rocket engine testing facility mimicked a full launch, firing the engine’s 512,000 pounds of thrust for a straight 535 seconds, the time it would take to climb 200 miles. It burned a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, releasing its exhaust in a massive plume of steam out of one side of the test stand, along with all the energy that typically would go into, you know, actually launching the thing.
Onlookers watching from a safe distance got nearly nine minutes of bone-rattling power. This was the sixth of seven planned static fire tests of the updated engine.