Maiden NASA SLS core stage hot fire test ends prematurely

NASA’s first SLS core stage static fire test ended just 60 seconds into a planned eight-minute burn.
The four RS-25 engines of a NASA SLS core stage were ignited for the first time on January 16 on the B-2 Test Stand at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi | Image credit: NASA Television

The first static fire test of a NASA Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was automatically aborted just over 60 seconds into a planned eight-minute burn.

NASA began the final test of the first SLS core stage’s Green Run test campaign on January 16 at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The hot-fire test called for the stage’s four RS-25 engines to perform an eight-minute burn, the same amount of time that the engines would be required to perform during a mission to space.

Following a successful ignition, the four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines produced 1.6 million pounds of thrust with the stage anchored firmly in place on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis.

Approximately 45 seconds into the test, controllers reported an MFC (main component failure) in engine number four. The engines shut down automatically 20 seconds later.

During a press briefing hours after the test, NASA officials offered little in the way of clarity. SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Center, John Honeycutt explained that any parameter that went awry could send that particular failure ID. He added that teams were only just beginning to pore through the data in order to ascertain the cause of the engine four MFC error.

The SLS core stage utilised for Saturday’s test was not just a test article. The stage is expected to be the first to be launched on a mission to space as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed test flight of the SLS launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft. The mission will see the maiden SLS flight deploy the Orion spacecraft on its way to the Moon. The spacecraft is expected to spend 6 days in a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon before returning to Earth.

The mission had been slated for November 2021. However, following Saturday’s incomplete test, a launch this year is increasingly unlikely.

In a January 12 briefing, officials from NASA and prime contractor Boeing stated that teams would need a burn of at least 250 seconds to collect an adequate array of data. With just 60 seconds under its belt, it is unlikely the agency will agree to press forward without a second static fire test.

According to Honeycutt, teams would need a minimum of between 21 to 30 days to prepare the four RS-25 engines for a second test if nothing needed to be repaired or replaced.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.