NASA successfully tested the most powerful rocket booster ever built Wednesday in preparation for future missions to an asteroid and Mars.
The booster for the Space Launch System (SLS) — the most powerful rocket ever built — was anchored and ignited for the first time in the Utah desert for what is known as a “static test” — during which it fired for two consecutive minutes.
“This test is a significant milestone for SLS and follows years of development,” SLS program manager Todd May said in a NASA statement Wednesday. “Our partnership with Orbital ATK and more than 500 suppliers across the country is keeping us on the path to building the most powerful rocket in the world.”
Orbital ATK, born out of the recent merger of Orbital Sciences and ATK, built the 177-foot-long, 1.6-million-pound rocket motor, which produced 3.6 million pounds of thrust and burned through 5.5 tons of powdered aluminum fuel, oxidizer and binding agents per second, according to Spaceflight Now. During the test, temperatures inside the booster reached more than 5,600 degrees.
Two of the boosters will power the first stage of the completed SLS, providing 75 percent of the thrust necessary for the rocket to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. After that, four hydrogen RS-25 engines — modified versions of those used on shuttle missions — will power the SLS core stage, and propel NASA’s recently tested Orion crew capsule into deep space. (RELATED: Watch The First Test Launch Of NASA’s New Crewed Orion Spacecraft)
Eventually, the SLS will be capable of “an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons),” according to NASA.
Wednesday’s test was the first of two to qualify the booster for flight status ahead of the SLS’s first uncrewed flight in 2018. A crewed mission to carry astronauts around the moon is scheduled for 2021. After that, NASA has its sights set on an asteroid and eventually, Mars.