In what should have been a roughly eight-minute hot fire test on Saturday at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the rockets that will be responsible for carrying NASA’s Artemis 1 mission to the moon and back stopped after just one minute.
Saturday’s test of the 212-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) core stage was going smoothly at the start, with all four engines igniting correctly, but the early shutdown has left teams involved with the mission piecing together what exactly went wrong, NASA reported in a press release. The test was supposed to run for the amount of time needed to get Artemis 1 to the moon, and is the last in a series of tests for the core stage, known as the Green Run.
“This hot fire is exactly why we test like we fly and fly like we test,” said Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech in the release. “We will learn from today’s early shutdown, identify any corrections if needed, and move forward.”
The Green Run began in January 2020 but was met with delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the announcement of the Green Run in 2019, Administrator of NASA Jim Bridenstine listed astronaut safety as the top priority and main reason for testing.
As the first mission in a series that is planned to establish crewed, exploratory missions to the moon and then to Mars, Artemis 1 has a lot on its shoulders. Its first flight to the moon and back will be uncrewed, itself a test for a future mission that will have astronauts stepping on the moon, including the first woman to do so, in 2024.
The last moon walk was in 1972 with the Apollo 17 mission.
In Saturday’s test, the core stage’s engines generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust while anchored for the hot fire. The core stage weighs about 2.3 millions pounds, which includes 733,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellent.
NASA has yet to announce what the cause of the hot fire shut off was definitively.