Mission to Mars: Test Success for the Rocket That Will Launch Them

WASHINGTON — Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK and NASA successfully conducted a second test on the massive booster rockets for NASA’s planned missions to Mars.

The five-segment rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket, was developed by Orbital ATK. The first test also was successful. Both were designed to test the boosters’ performance in different operating temperatures.

Lying horizontally at a test facility in Promontory, Utah, the QM-2 motor is 154 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, the world’s largest solid rocket motor ever designed and built. The boosters produce 3.6 million pounds of maximum thrust, more thrust than 14 747-400 jets produce at full takeoff power.

The flame exits the motor at Mach 3 and burns for a full 126 seconds.

The SLS will propel the Orion spacecraft into space on its journey to a lunar orbit where astronauts will someday dock with their Mars-bound space vehicle.

“The building blocks for NASA’s journey to Mars are in place and are gathering strong momentum,” said Charlie Precourt, general manager and vice president of Orbital ATK’s propulsion systems division. Precourt is a four-time space shuttle veteran.

The first unmanned test flight of the SLS and Orion spacecraft is scheduled for late-2018.

A Mars mission is still years away.

The first step may be to send humans to a possible asteroid rendezvous, perhaps by 2025, for scientific studies, and to Mars sometime in the 2030s.

And in-space habitat and Mars transfer spacecraft are still in the early stages of development.

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