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NASA prepare for Space Launch System engine tests

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Jan 19, 2014, 8:00 UTC

Sen—NASA is making preparations for testing the engines which will power the core stage of its next rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).

The SLS will have four RS-25 engines -- the same type which powered the space shuttle -- to power its core stage. Each engine is designed to provide 530,000 pounds of thrust.

The testing of the engines is due to begin this summer at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. A test platform is being prepared for the installation of the first RS-25 engine arriving in May ahead of a hot-fire test in July.

Years of tests are expected before SLS's maiden flight scheduled for 2017. RS-25 rocket engine test project manager Gary Benton said: “This is a big year for Stennis, for NASA and for the nation’s human space program. By mid-summer, we will be testing the engines that will carry humans deeper into space than ever before."

The SLS is being designed with two configurations, one that can lift 70 metric tons and a larger configuration with a second stage that will be capable of lifting 130 metric tons.

RS-25 engine during a hot fire test

An RS-25 during a previous hot-fire test. Four RS-25 engines will power the core stage of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS). Image credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Whilst the core stage will be powered by RS-25 engines, the second stage will be powered by J-2X engines which were tested at the Stennis Space Center last year.

In its larger configuration SLS will stand 384 feet tall, higher than the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo craft to the Moon. The Saturn V rocket stood 363 feet tall (110 metres) and could lift 120 metric tons to Low Earth Orbit.

NASA hopes the SLS will be used to launch its Orion space vehicle to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and eventually Mars. Further parachute tests for Orion were conducted in recent days as the space agency works towards the spacecraft's first unmanned test flight - Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) - scheduled for this September.

The EFT-1 mission will see Orion orbit Earth twice at an altitude of 3,600 miles (about 5,800 km) - farther than any spacecraft designed to carry crew has reached since the last Apollo mission.

Gallery: Space Launch System