Aerojet Rocketdyne tests first flight-ready RS-25
Work on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) reached another milestone on March 10, 2016, when Aerojet Rocketdyne test fired the RS-25 engine at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. This is the first flight engine for the SLS and the first one to be tested for a full duration of flight. Designated E2059, the engine fired for 500 seconds while bolted firmly to the test stand.
“This rocket will take humans farther and faster into the Solar System than we have ever traveled and increase our capability of making exciting new discoveries by launching large astronomical observatories and other scientific missions,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president.
Stennis Space Center, located north of New Orleans, is home to some of NASA’s most advanced test stands. The site is the largest rocket testing facility providing services to over 30 different agencies, government entities, and private businesses such as Blue Origin. Stennis is also where all the Space shuttle main engines, a close relative of the RS-25, have been tested. The use of the site made sense due to the existing engine infrastructure.
“It is always a good day at NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne when you feel the rumble of the Earth as the RS-25 engine comes to life,” said Drake. “This test is the first test of the new controller on a flight engine, demonstrating true adaptability and continuation of technology insertions for this workhorse engine.”
While testing of the new controller for the RS-25 was the primary objective, several other objectives were also completed. In conditions similar to what the hardware will experience in flight, Aerojet Rocketdyne tested the calibration of engine and facility flowmeters and the operation of a rebuilt high-pressure fuel pump.
“Mission success is our driving factor, which is why testing each engine is critical to ensure the safety of the astronauts and cargo that will fly on SLS,” added Drake.
While this RS-25 engine is the first flight article to undergo testing, Aerojet Rocketdyne racked up over 3,700 seconds of engine firing time last year. Those tests involved the first RS-25 development engine. Testing of these engines is critical as they are exposed to extreme conditions during the flight profile. Pressures inside the engine can exceed 7,000 pounds per square inch (492.15 kg/cm2). Beyond that, the engine must operate with temperature swings from –423 °F (–252 °C) to over 6,000 °F (3,315 °C).
Engine E2059 is scheduled to be used on the second flight of the SLS in the bottom core stage. That flight is currently scheduled for 2021. Additional engines, slated for testing from now through 2017, will be used for the 2018 inaugural Exploration Mission-1 launch.
Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for the RS-25 core stage engines that will be used to propel SLS on its eight-minute climb into space. They are also currently developing the AR1 – an engine being considered as a replacement for the Russian-built RD-180 engines used on the Atlas V.
Video Courtesy of NASA Stennis
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.