Watch NASA test solid rocket motors for first Mars rocket launch

The Mars Ascent Vehicle will launch from the red planet in the early 2030s using two specially-designed solid rocket motors.
Chris Young
The second-stage solid rocket motor designed for MAV.
The second-stage solid rocket motor designed for MAV.


NASA recently performed tests on the solid rocket motors (SRMs) it will use to perform the first rocket launch from Mars for the upcoming Mars Sample Return mission.

The US space agency shared footage of the tests, which took place in March and April, a blog post from NASA reveals.

NASA will use the solid rocket motors to power its Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), which is on course to become the first rocket to ever launch from the surface of another planet.

NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle is scheduled to fly in 2028

The team developing MAV carried out successful tests of the first and second-stage solid rocket motors required for the off-world launch.

The Mars Sample Return mission is an incredibly ambitious program that aims to retrieve samples collected by NASA's Mars Perseverance rover by the early 2030s.

NASA formed a strategic partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) to retrieve those samples, which could provide evidence of ancient life on the red planet.

The MAV system is currently scheduled to launch in June 2028 and tests are underway for the development of the vehicle. It will launch aboard the Sample Retrieval Lander, which will take two years to reach Mars. MAV will then spend roughly a year collecting the Perseverance samples.

The MAV will then launch from Mars into orbit around the planet. From there, it will release the sample container for the Earth Return Orbiter to capture.

The MAV will launch using two solid rocket motors, SRM1 and SRM2. SRM1 will lift MAV off the Martian surface and SRM2 will spin MAV's second stage to allow the rocket to place the sample container in the correct Mars orbit. You can watch footage of the tests in the video below.

Testing the first engines to fly a rocket off Mars

NASA performed engine tests on development versions of SRM2 on March 29, 2023, and SRM1 on April 7. SRM2 was tested at the Northrop Grumman facility in Elkton, Maryland, and SRM1 was tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

SRM1 was tested in a vacuum chamber that was cooled to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius), allowing the researchers to test a supersonic splitline nozzle designed to withstand the harsh cold conditions on Mars.

"This test demonstrates our nation has the capacity to develop a launch vehicle that can successfully be lightweight enough to get to Mars and robust enough to put a set of samples into orbit to bring back to Earth," MAV Propulsion Manager Benjamin Davis at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center said in the NASA post. "The hardware is telling us that our technology is ready to proceed with development."

The supersonic splitline nozzle will also undergo testing to make sure it can handle the intense vibrations of launch as well as the extreme temperature fluctuations of space.

NASA announced that the nozzle is currently at technology readiness level six, and it will have to be at nine to be considered ready to launch to the red planet to help NASA and ESA collect samples and return them from Mars for the first time ever.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board