Last week the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) successfully tested what could be described as the ‘mark 2’ version of the booster rocket for its heavy Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS boosters are the most powerful booster rockets ever built for flight operations and their initial (‘mark 1’) version has been flight certified and will be used to help launch the first three missions in the Artemis programme.
The recent test involved what Nasa called the Flight Support Booster-1 (FSB-1) and was conducted with SLS booster prime contractor Northrop Grumman at a test facility at Promontory in the US state of Utah. FSB-1 was constructed using new materials and processes, including new propellant ingredients from new suppliers.
“This flight support booster test is the first motor firing Nasa and Northrop Grumman have completed since qualifying the booster design for the Space Launch System rocket,” highlighted Nasa Marshall Space Flight Centre (SFC) SLS Boosters Office manager Bruce Tiller. “Full-scale booster tests are rare, so Nasa tries to test multiple objectives at one time so we are highly confident that any changes we make to the boosters will still enable them to perform as expected on launch day.”
Each SLS booster rocket is composed of five segments. The FSB-1 test involved the firing of the full booster for the full length of time that it would burn in an actual launch, which was just over two minutes. During this test firing the booster produced more than 13.3-million Newtons of thrust. Both Nasa and Northrop Grumman will analyse the data collected from the test to determine FSB-1’s performance.
“Nasa is simultaneously making progress on assembling and manufacturing the solid rocket boosters for the first three Artemis missions and looking ahead toward missions beyond the initial Moon landing,” pointed out Nasa Marshall SFC SLS programme manager John Honeycutt. “[This] marks the first flight support booster test to confirm the rocket motor’s performance using potential new materials for Artemis IV and beyond.”
The SLS is composed of a core stage, to which two boosters are attached. It is the most powerful launch rocket ever developed by Nasa and is the only rocket that can launch an Orion spacecraft, its crew and supplies to the Moon in one go. The SLS, Orion, the Gateway station (which will orbit the Moon) and the ‘Human (Lunar) Landing System’ (the latter two are currently under development) are all part of Nasa’s Artemis programme.
“Landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon is just the beginning of Nasa’s Artemis programme,” stressed Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The SLS flight support booster firing is a crucial part of sustaining missions to the Moon. Nasa’s goal is to take what we learn living and working on the Moon and use it to send humans on the first missions to Mars.”
The Artemis programme is named after the ancient Greek divinity. Artemis was the goddess of hunting, wild animals, wilderness, and chastity. She was the protectress of women during childbirth and the patron of girls and young women. Very appropriately, she was also the sister of the god Apollo, after whom Nasa’s first crewed Moon programme was named. The ancient Romans called her Diana.