NASA’s deep space exploration rocket has briefly ignited its four engines for the first time.
The test was a crucial step towards a debut unmanned launch later this year under NASA’s Artemis programme, the Trump administration’s mission to return US astronauts to the moon again by 2024.
The rocket, built by Boeing, roared into life for just one minute and 15 seconds at the test facility in Mississippi.
The engines generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust, consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants while on NASA’s largest test stand, which is 35 storeys tall.
It was well short of the roughly four minutes that were needed to keep its development on track for it first launch in November.
NASA said: “All four RS-25 engines ignited successfully, but the test was stopped early after about a minute.
“At this point, the test was fully automated.
“During the firing, the onboard software acted appropriately and initiated a safe shutdown of the engines.
“During the test, the propellant tanks were pressurised, and this data will be valuable as the team plans the path forward.
“In coming days, engineers will continue to analyse data and will inspect the core stage and its four RS-25 engines to determine the next steps.”
Despite the test being cut short, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine was still positive, saying: “Saturday’s test was an important step forward to ensure that the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis I mission, and to carry crew on future missions.
“Although the engines did not fire for the full duration, the team successfully worked through the countdown, ignited the engines, and gained valuable data to inform our path forward.”
“We got lots of data that we’re going to be able to sort through,” he added, talking about whether the November launch is still possible.
If it is not possible, it could push the debut into 2022.