SEPT. 3, 2020 — Things got hot in Utah yesterday with a test firing of the world’s most powerful solid rocket booster.
Officially dubbed FSB-1, yesterday’s test firing was meant to test new materials for the Space Launch System (SLS) boosters that will fly on future Artemis missions beyond Artemis III. These boosters are based on the boosters of the legacy Space Shuttle, using the a similar segment design, and manufactured by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly Orbital ATK. However, these boosters have an extra segment and a newly designed nozzle in order to be able to lift the extremely heavy Block 1 and 1B SLS vehicle. A version of this SRB, minus the new materials, is currently being stacked at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, per NASA.
This test firing was conducted with the booster on its side on the test stand located in Promontory, Utah, with a US flag painted on the side. The booster itself burned for only 2 minutes, with the exhaust starting a fire. The booster performed nominally throughout the test, delivering over 3 million pounds, or roughly 1,300 metric tons, of thrust.
The SLS project manager John Honeycutt commented on this test, saying “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, ” and “Today marks the first flight support booster test to confirm the rocket motor’s performance using potential new materials for Artemis IV and beyond.”
The rocket that these boosters will help launch, the Space Launch System, is part of NASA’s Artemis Program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon before the end of 2024, and to test systems that will one day help us land the first people on Mars. SLS is scheduled to have its first launch in November 2021, dubbed Artemis I, sending the Orion capsule on a free return trajectory around the moon. In such a trajectory, the capsule will fly around the moon once and use its gravity to return back to Earth without any extra energy input.
SLS itself is a Space Shuttle derived rocket, utilizing upgraded solid boosters and the same RS-25 main engines as the shuttle, complete with an orange tank. These boosters produce over 75% of the initial thrust upon liftoff, giving SLS the kick it needs to place giant payloads into low earth orbit. These boosters will be used on Block I and IB. Block IB is different as it uses an upgraded upper stage called the Exploration Upper Stage. SLS Block II will not use the Space Shuttle derived boosters, but instead will use an upgraded, new design.
Go NASA. Go SLS. Go Artemis.