Forget “Houston, we have a problem” – it was “all go, Stennis,” yesterday. Engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi conducted the sixth test of the Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine, which NASA hopes will someday be used to send astronauts on future missions to explore asteroids and Mars.
The test, which took place before a crowd of roughly 1,200 onlookers and was broadcast live on NASA TV, lasted 535 seconds. During the test, the engine produced 512,000 pounds of thrust Also on display were the Aerojet Rocketdyne (the company contracted to develop the RS-25) engine assembly facility and the massive Pegasus barge that NASA uses to transport from the assembly facility, to testing sites, and then finally to the launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
On NASA’s Rocketology blog, SLS strategic communications team member Martin Burkey elaborated on what makes the new rocket engines so impressive:
It has to handle temperatures as low as minus 400 degrees where the propellants enter the engine and as high as 6,000 degrees as the exhaust exits the combustion chamber where the propellants are burned.
It has to move a lot of propellants to generate a lot of energy. At the rate the four SLS core stage engines consume propellants, they could drain a family swimming pool in 1 minute.
The most complex part of the engine is its four turbopumps which are responsible for accelerating fuel and oxidizer to those insanely high flow rates. The high pressure fuel turbopump main shaft rotates at 37,000 rpms compared to about 3,000 rpm for a car engine at 60 mph.
The bottom line is that the RS-25 produces 512,000 pounds of thrust. That’s more than 12 million horsepower. That’s enough to push 10 giant aircraft carriers around the ocean at nearly 25 mph.
RS-25 rocket engine in action
To see the full test, check out this extended video NASA posted to YouTube today:
With more tests to come, so far things look really promising for the future of space travel.