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How to watch NASA test the world's most powerful rocket

Posted January 16, 2021 1:51 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2021 3:27 p.m. EST

A test of the Saturn V first stage, S-1C-5, is conducted on Aug. 25, 1967 on the B-1/B-2 Test Stand at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center. The test involved simultaneous firing of five F-1 engines. NASA now is preparing the B-2 position on the stand to test the core stage of its new Space Launch System, which will involve the simultaneous firing of four RS-25 engines. (NASA/MSFC)

Update: NASA is running ahead of schedule and now will begin the test at 4 p.m.

The last step in NASA's "green run" testing of the Space Launch System (SLS) is planned for a two-hour window that opens at 4 p.m. EST, Saturday, January 16. Live coverage begins on NASA TV at 3:20 p.m.

The rocket's four RS-25 engines, reused from the Space Shuttle program, will generate 1.6 million pounds of thrust during the same 8 minutes required to lift the heavy payloads it was designed to carry into orbit. Like a launch without the launch, the rocket will remain firmly bolted to the test stand consuming 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, fuel.

The test will take place at the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It was built in the 1960s to test the complete first stage of the Saturn V rocket, firing all five F-1 engines simultaneously. The test stand was modified in the 1970s to support testing of the RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engines, and again in 2015 for the 15% additional thrust produced by the SLS over the Saturn V.

Cooling the fire

Much of the upgrades to the test facility included maintenance and expansion of the high pressure water system. Fire and exhaust from the RS-25 engines will be cooled by 335,000 gallons of water per minute flowing through 8-foot diameter pipe. The resulting cloud of steam will be redirected by the flame bucket (yellow in the photo below) and out a concrete lined flame trench into the miles of swamp that surround the facility.

B-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi

Because the rocket remains on the ground throughout the test, it cannot escape the noise generated during tests. An additional 87,000 gallons per minute spray around the base of the rocket, creating a curtain of water which dampens acoustic energy protection the rocket from vibrations that would otherwise shake the test stand and rocket apart. Water comes from a manmade canal system which flows into a 66-million-gallon reservoir.

Space Launch System

That's the rocket NASA plans to carry a new generation of astronauts to the moon as well as other missions. The first launch vehicle built for human space travel since the Saturn V, NASA also also plans to use SLS's heavy lift capabilities to launch payloads on missions beyond the moon to places like the Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.

NASA's one-of-a-kind barge has transported segments of the Saturn V, Space Shuttle and now SLS to test facilities in Alabama and Mississippi and the launch site in Florida

The SLS core booster stage, like the Saturn V before it, is built at the Michaud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and transported via a one-of-a-kind ocean-going barge to Stennis, and then for launch from the Kennedy Space Center on a 900-mile trip around the tip of Florida to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Testing was completed in Utah last year on solid rocket motors, similar to those used in the shuttle program with extra segments for additional powered needed to get the massive rocket off the pad.

Whats Next

After completing green run testing, this booster will be readied for the Artmeis-1 mission scheduled for November 2021. That mission will fully test all components of SLS including an (un-crewed) Artemis capsule in orbit around the Moon for 6-23 days.

Artemis-1 is an (uncrewed) integrated flight test of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft scheduled for Nov 2021

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