Nasa has carried out a successful test on part of the most powerful rocket in existence – the Space Launch System (SLS).
Engines on the rocket’s “core stage” were kept running for more than eight minutes – simulating the time it takes the SLS to go from the ground to space.
It’s the second such test for the most important segment of the SLS, after an effort in January to pack up early.
The SLS is to send humans to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
The mission is a component of Nasa’s Artemis project, launched by the Trump administration in 2017.
The launcher consists of the orange core, with its four powerful RS-25 engines, and two boosters attached to the edges.
The test at Stennis Space Center, near Bay St Louis, Mississippi, began at 16:37 ET (20:37 GMT). The core was attached to an enormous structure called the B-2 test stand.
A massive plume of exhaust expanded from the stand because the engines shook the bottom. The cloud was so enormous, it had been spotted from space by the Goes-16 satellite.
Although the target was to fireside the engines for eight minutes, teams from Nasa and prime contractor Boeing only had to stay them on for 250 seconds (four minutes) to gather all the engineering data they needed.
“It was an excellent day and an excellent test,” said acting Nasa Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
The chair of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology congratulated Nasa on the successful test. Texas democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson said: “Achieving this significant milestone may be a story of tenacity and dedication.”
She added: “Today’s successful test brings us one step closer to returning American astronauts to the Moon in preparation for the human exploration of Mars.”
The core that was a part of Thursday’s test is going to be used for the maiden flight of the SLS – currently scheduled for late 2021.
In the 1960s, the stand-tested engines utilized in the huge Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
John Shannon, Boeing’s vice president, and program manager for the SLS told me before the first hot-fire attempt: “When the engines start and then throttle up, we will do what’s called a gimbal profile at 60 seconds. The engine nozzles move during a pre-programmed set of movements.”
This gimbal movement of the nozzles allows the rocket to be steered during flight.