A critical NASA rocket test ended with a shutdown on Saturday, a little over a minute into what was planned to be an eight-minute test. This trial run was a vital checkpoint for NASA’s much-delayed Space Launch System. The SLS is set to play a key role in the agency’s Artemis program which aims to return astronauts to the Moon.
During today’s Green Run test, the four rocket engines in the SLS core fired for a little over a minute while anchored in NASA’s rocket test stand. The team had planned to have the engines fire for approximately eight minutes, or about the same amount of time it will take to launch future missions to the Moon.
The first 250 seconds of the anticipated test were especially key for the engineering team — during that time they planned to have the engines move through a series of maneuvers designed to test the responsiveness of the engines while they were lit.
During the test, about 1,400 sensors were gathering data on the rocket and its performance. Among other things, the sensors monitored the core for vibration, temperature, acoustics, and stress. Even though the test was cut short, those sensors did gather a lot of data that may eventually help NASA determine the path forward.
The SLS has been in development for years, and was originally scheduled to make its flight debut in 2017. Instead, it has been plagued by delays and is massively over budget. NASA had previously pushed back the rocket’s debut to November 2021, and was still hoping to make that launch date, even after a December 2020 delay in their testing schedule.
The rocket being tested today was slated to be part of that first launch — an uncrewed mission called Artemis I that would send NASA’s Orion spacecraft around the moon. It’s unclear how the results of today’s test might affect that mission’s timeline.
NASA plans to hold a press conference tonight approximately two hours after the test.