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NASA Test-Fires Engine for ‘Most Powerful Rocket in the World’

Aug 22, 2016 06:23 AM EDT

NASA has successfully conducted a test firing of an RS-25 rocket engine on Aug. 18 at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The RS-25 rocket engine, which was built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, will power the core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket, touted as "the most powerful rocket in the world," on its journey to Mars. The SLS rocket is NASA's chosen space vehicle for its Mars expedition, which will be propelled by four RS-25 engines and two solid rocket boosters. The rocket will also propel NASA astronauts in the Orion crew capsule on other space missions.

The RS-25 engine No. 0528 ran for a full duration of 7.5 minutes (420 seconds) and underwent other critical tests to scope out and determine its capabilities and operating margins. The RS-25 engines used to power space shuttles, powering 135 missions to low-Earth orbit for about 30 years. However, higher performance levels are required to power the SLS, NASA officials said in a press release.

The recent development tests will provide key data on engine performance, as well as the performance of a new engine controller unit, which controls internal engine functions during operation and ensures proper communication between the SLS and the RS-25 engines.

"We continue this test series in the fall. Which is a continuing part of our certification series to fly these engines on NASA's SLS vehicle," Steve Wofford, manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, said in an interview with Universe Today.

"Today's test was mostly about wringing out the new control system. We have a new engine controller on this engine. And we have to certify that new controller for flight."

According to space shuttle astronaut Rick Mastracchio, the tests are being conducted on the space station to prepare technology for long solar system journeys, as well as commercial spaceflight companies' development of new and efficient ways to get to space.

"SLS is going to be the most powerful rocket ever built when it's done several years from now," Mastracchio said in a report by Space.com. "It's going to have to throw up all this hardware into low-Earth orbit so we can then take it to the moon and beyond, all the way to Mars."

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