Engineers have fired a booster rocket that will help send Americans back to the Moon in 2024.
At 20:05 BST (15:05 EDT) the booster, which was secured to the ground, expelled an immense column of flame for two minutes.
Two of these booster types will form part of Nasa's huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the biggest launcher built since the Saturn V in the 1960s.
Wednesday's rocket firing was carried out at a test site in Promontory, Utah.
The facility is operated by aerospace giant Northrop Grumman.
The huge Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) provide most of the thrust in the first two minutes of the SLS's ride to space.
The test was designed to test the performance and manufacturing quality of the booster's rocket motor. It will also help teams evaluate potential new materials, processes, and improvements for the boosters beyond the first landing on the Moon in 2024.
Measuring 54m (177ft) long and 4m (12ft) wide, the SLS booster is the largest and most powerful solid propellant booster ever built.
- Designed to send the Orion spacecraft, astronauts and cargo to the Moon
- Consists of a core stage with two attached solid rocket boosters
- Four RS-25 engines sit at the base of the core stage; they're the same engines used on the space shuttle orbiter
- The core stage stands 98m (322ft) tall in its initial, or Block 1, configuration.
- The Block 1 SLS can send more than 27 metric tonnes (59,500 pounds) to orbits beyond the Moon.
- SLS will produce 8.8 million pounds (39.5 Meganewtons) of maximum thrust, 15% more than the Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo missions
It burns around six tonnes of propellant every second, generating more thrust than 14 four-engine jumbo commercial airliners.
Charles Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems at Northrop Grumman and a former Nasa astronaut, said: "It's important to me to ensure we have what is necessary to establish a presence on the Moon and then go on to Mars.
"Testing our rocket boosters is how we can help ensure astronauts can explore space safely."
The SLS consists of a huge core stage with four engines at its base. Two SRBs are attached on each side of the core and provide 75% of the thrust during the first two minutes of the ascent to space.
Both the core and boosters are derived from technology used in the space shuttle, which was retired in 2011.
Able to produce a total thrust of more than eight million pounds, the SLS will supply the power necessary to launch crewed missions to the Moon, and eventually - it is hoped - Mars.
Nasa plans to launch the giant rocket on its maiden flight next year. This mission, called Artemis 1, will see an unpiloted Orion capsule sent on a loop around the Moon.
Teams at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center are already assembling the solid rocket boosters for this mission.
For Artemis 2, four astronauts will travel around the Moon in 2023, followed a year later by the first crewed landing since 1972.
Meanwhile, engineers in Mississippi have resumed their "Green Run" testing of the massive SLS core stage, after operations were paused in response to the threat from tropical storms Marco and Laura.
The Green Run consists of eight tests, four of which have been completed since the core stage arrived at Nasa's Stennis Space Center near Bay St Louis in January. The fifth, which has just started, will aim to check out rocket controls and hydraulics.
Nasa's head of human spaceflight Kathy Lueders said she hoped the programme could stay on track for a "hot fire" test in October.
During the hot fire, all four of the powerful RS-25 engines at the base of the core stage are fired for about eight minutes - the time it takes for the SLS to get from the ground to orbit.
NASA Conducts SLS Booster Test for Future Artemis Missions
As NASA begins assembling the boosters for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will power the first Artemismission to the Moon, teams in Utah are evaluating materials and processes to improve rocket boosters for use on missions after Artemis III.
NASA completed a full-scale booster test for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in Promontory, Utah, on Sept. 2. NASA and Northrop Grumman, the SLS booster lead contractor, will use data from the test to evaluate the motor’s performance using potential new materials and processes that can be incorporated into future boosters. NASA has a contract with Northrop Grumman to build boosters for future rocket flights.
“Landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon is just the beginning of NASA’s Artemis Program,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The SLS flight support booster firing is a crucial part of sustaining missions to the Moon. NASA’s goal is to take what we learn living and working on the Moon and use it to send humans on the first missions to Mars.”
For a little over two minutes — the same amount of time that the boosters power the SLS rocket during liftoff and flight for each Artemis mission — the five-segment flight support booster fired in the Utah desert, producing more than 3 million pounds of thrust.
NASA and Northrop Grumman have previously completed three development motor tests and two qualification motor tests. Today’s test, called Flight Support Booster-1 (FSB-1), builds on prior tests with the introduction of propellant ingredients from new suppliers for boosters on SLS rockets to support flights after Artemis III.
“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,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program Manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “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 SLS boosters are the largest, most powerful boosters ever built for flight. The flight support booster used in the test is the same size and has the same power as the flight version of a five-segment solid rocket booster used for NASA’s Artemis missions. The Artemis I boosters are currently being prepared for launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“This flight support booster test is the first motor firing NASA and Northrop Grumman have completed since qualifying the booster design for the Space Launch System rocket,” said Bruce Tiller, SLS Boosters Office Manager at Marshall. “Full-scale booster tests are rare, so NASA tries to test multiple objectives at one time so we are highly confident that any changes we make to the boosters will still enable them to perform as expected on launch day.”
NASA is working to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. The SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway, and human landing system are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. The Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration as part of America’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach. Experience gained at the Moon will enable humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.