PROMONTORY — Earlier this week, crews working in a remote area of Box Elder County, about 30 miles northwest of Brigham City, reached a significant milestone in the effort to send the next humans to the moon.
On Wednesday, NASA and Northrop Grumman successfully completed a full-scale, static fire test of the Space Launch System rocket motor in Promontory. Known as the “Flight Support Booster,” the five-segment rocket motor fired for just over two minutes and produced 3.6 million pounds of thrust. Two of the boosters will be used for the Artemis program, through which NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.
Bruce Tiller, manager of NASA’s Space Launch System Rocket Boosters Office, said the motor provides more thrust and power than anything ever built for flight.
Northrop Grumman engineer Nik Ciaston said the rocket motor is 167 feet long and 12 feet in diameter. He said the Promontory outfit has completed five previous tests to qualify for flight, but Wednesday’s test differed because it verified that all of the ballistic requirements for the motor have been met. Ciaston said preparations for the test began in March.
NASA will also use data from the test to evaluate the potential of using new materials and processes for future booster performance improvements.
Tiller said the Box Elder testing site, which sits in the middle of Utah’s massive northwest desert area, is ideal for the sheer scale and magnitude of the test.
“We test these in a remote testing site, out in the desert, and we do that for safety reasons — in fact, we watch them from 3 miles away,” he said. “It makes a lot of noise, a lot of fire and it gives us really good scientific objectives.”
According to Northrop Communications Specialist Kay Anderson, the company developed the motor based on previous, flight-proven designs of space shuttle boosters, but with enhanced technologies and updated materials. The new five-segment booster configuration provides 20% greater average thrust than prior shuttle boosters, Anderson said, which will generate greater departure speed than any existing launch vehicle.
Charlie Precourt, vice president of Northrop’s Propulsion Systems division and a four-time space shuttle astronaut, said he envies the crews that will get to experience the new technology.
“I know what it’s like to fly the (previously built) space shuttle rocket boosters,” he said. “The five-segment boosters will add far greater lift capability. ... When those rocket motors light, you know you’re going somewhere. I’d love to ride ... and can’t wait to hear the experiences of the first SLS astronaut crew.”