We're Going Back to the Moon! NASA's Artemis Test is On

We're one step closer to a return to the moon.
Brad Bergan

NASA just took a step closer to the moon, executing the second hotfire test of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on Thursday, according to the agency's live feed — which streamed on YouTube from 2:30 PM EDT onward (featured below).

The test window was scheduled to open at 3:00 PM EDT, and was set to close at 5:00 PM, sharp. But the hotfire test window was later delayed until 3:45 PM EDT, and eventually ignited at 4:37 PM EDT on Thursday, March 18.

NASA's SLS core stage completed its second hotfire test run

The SLS core stage for NASA's upcoming Artemis mission completed a full hotfire test on Thursday, filling the area with a massive white plume of smoke for roughly 8 minutes.

Applause could be heard from mission control as the engine shut down and waterworks activated, to cool the test fire area from the inferno of the megarocket's blast.

"They clearly got the full duration," said an official during the NASA live stream. With massive amounts of data gathered, the agency achieved a perfect test.

The core stage is slated to lift the Artemis I mission to space later this year.

NASA just performed a hotfire test of its SLS core stage

This was the second hotfire test of NASA's SLS core stage, the first of which was (partially) finished on Jan. 16, 2021. The core stage didn't launch or move, but we did see a colossal billowing cloud of smoke fill the air around the agency's Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

The hotfire test consists in the ignition of all four RS-25 engines, and should continue for roughly 8 minutes, unless something goes wrong. The last hotfire test ended early, with only 67 seconds elapsed due to a computer shut-down — when a crucial parameter related to gimbaling hydraulics (also called pivoting) hit a snag.

This is why NASA's doing a second test — which is also the ninth and possibly final test of the Green Run testing flow. In today's test, NASA sought to simulate the demands of a real-world launch to the greatest possible degree. 

"Recording data on how the stage performs at T-0 and as the engines ramp up to 109 percent power is one critical test operation," wrote NASA in a blog post. "Another is when the engines are throttled down to 95 percent, just as they are throttled down in flight at Max-Q, or maximum dynamic pressure when aerodynamic forces put the greatest stress on the rocket."

NASA's Artemis will return humans to the moon and Mars

The core stage's RS-25 engines were slated to gimbal during the test to simulate its steering capabilities, and were slated for a trial much more challenging than conditions expected for an actual launch. This is called a "frequency response test," and enables NASA to know whether the "thrust vector control system's response is demonstrated under a variety of flight-like conditions," according to the NASA blog post.

NASA's Green Run series is a test flow designed to prep the SLS rocket for eventual Artemis missions to the moon — which will start with the launch of Artemis I, scheduled for later this year. Inside the core stage is a liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tank, the four RS-25 engines, and the electronics, computers, and avionics that will function as the digital "brains" of the NASA vehicle.

"The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the SLS rocket and Orion Spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon," read the NASA blog post. As Artemis is realized, it will enable NASA to land the next humans on the moon, and create a space-based Lunar Gateway for future sustainable ventures to both the moon and Mars.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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