NASA has successfully tested the next-generation RS-25 engine that will carry its astronauts to Mars by 2020, according to reports emerging in online media. The mission to Mars, termed the Orion Mission, will be NASA’s biggest and most ambitious since Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969.
According to the Economic Times, NASA performed a nine-minute-long test run at the heart of the U.S. space agency’s mega-rocket that, apart from taking astronauts to Mars, will also help NASA conduct other deep space missions, including knowing more about distant asteroids and comets.
First developed in the 1970s by Aerojet Rocketdyne, RS-25 has been NASA’s most reliable and durable rocket for well over three decades. It was the same engine that was used in the first manned flight of the Space Shuttle program in 1981, and now 34 years later, scientists at NASA are confident that an upgraded RS-25 engine will face up to its next challenge of sending a manned mission to Mars in 2020.
NASA released a statement about the tests, confirming they were carried out to control the “brain” of the engine.
“The tests support the development of a new controller or ‘brain’ for the engine, which monitors engine status and communicates between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle.”
Test project manager Gary Benton could not hide his excitement at the successful completion of the test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
“There are probably some people in the control centre high-fiving, because that was a very successful test.”
Four RS-25s will be required to power the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket that will launch astronauts in Orion Spacecraft into Mars and other deep-space missions. NASA’s propulsion engineer Kathyrn Crowe compared the RS-25 to a “complicated” Ferrari, mainly because of its increased thrust, weight-to-thrust ratio, and overall efficiency. Martin Burkey of the NASA’s communications team went one step ahead and joked that the next-generation RS-25 will make any modern car look like a toy.
“The RS-25 makes a modern race car or jet engine look like a wind-up toy.”
It is worth noting here that the weight of an the RS-25 is equal to two F-15 fighter jets, but the engine will still help the Orion spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravity within six minutes of being set into motion. A single RS-25 can boast power equivalent to 12 million horsepower, with the main shaft’s ability to rotate at an astounding 37,000 rpm, 12 times faster than the best car around, according to Nature World Report.
NASA is set to take the next big leap forward in 2020, and if it can get the RS-25 to successfully launch its first manned trip to Mars, we may be in for a lot of surprises in the future.
[Photo by NASA]