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RS-25 engine test firing seen from drone

A-1 test stand RS-25 firing from a drone

A drone captures never-before-seen views of a test firing of an RS-25 engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

Engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, conducted a test of the RS-25 engine on the A-1 Test Stand. In addition to collecting performance data on the engine that will help power the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, a NASA drone revealed never-before-seen imagery of the more than six-minute-long firing.

The test was conducted by Aerojet Rocketdyne and Syncom Space Services personnel. Aerojet Rocketdyne is NASA’s prime contractor for the RS-25 engines. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

“The RS-25 is a remarkable engine that continues to undergo testing at Stennis to ensure that the Space Launch System rocket will have the performance necessary to safely take our astronauts into deep space,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake.

A-1 test stand RS-25 firing from a drone

A drone captures never-before-seen views of a test firing of an RS-25 engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: NASA

Views of the test stand came from an overhead drone, which captured the re-purposed Space Shuttle-era engine firing in action for the first time from above the A-1 stand.

“Never before has drone technology been used to give us a bird’s-eye view of our engine test,” Drake said.

Development engine No. 0528 ran for 380 seconds (about 6 minutes, 20 seconds) allowing engineers to monitor various engine operating conditions. According to NASASpaceflight, the engine was throttled to 109 percent of the originally designed power level for 205 seconds, 100 percent for nine seconds, and 80 percent for 118 seconds.

This was the 12th test of the RS-25 to confirm it meets the added requirements and performance beyond what was needed to support the Space Shuttle program.

The test is another step in the development of the rocket that will eventually launch humans beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. Four RS-25 engines, along with a pair of five-segment solid rocket boosters, will power the SLS at launch on deep space missions to the Moon or Mars.

The engines for the first four SLS flights will be former Space Shuttle Main Engines, which were also tested at Stennis.

“The RS-25 engine continues to perform flawlessly, which is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the hundred of employees across the country supporting this program,” said Dan Adamski, RS-25 program director at Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Engineers are conducting an ongoing series of tests this year on both development and flight engines to ensure the design, outfitted with a new controller, can perform at higher levels under a variety of conditions and situations. The engine controller unit controls the internal engine functions during the flight and enables proper communication between the SLS and the RS-25.

According to NASASpaceflight, three more firings of engine 0528 are planned – one on March 24, April 27, and May 16 – before it is removed for other engines to be tested. There is an option for a fifth test on the engine in June if needed. After that, flight engines will begin firing on the stand.

Stennis is also preparing its B-2 Test Stand for the core stage of the first SLS flight, known as Exploration Mission 1. The testing will involve installing the flight stage on the stand and firing its four RS-25 engines simultaneously.

EM-1 is expected to launch in 2018 to send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. However, NASA is currently studying the feasibility of adding people to the first mission, which would likely delay EM-1 by at least a year.

Video courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Center



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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