NASA and ATK today plan to test fire a solid rocket booster that could be a key component of the next U.S. rocket to launch people on deep space exploration missions.
The five-segment motor, an extended version of the space shuttle's four-segment boosters, was originally intended to serve as the first stage of the Constellation program's Ares I crew launch vehicle.
That rocket has been cancelled, but Congress has asked NASA to apply as much shuttle and Constellation hardware as possible to a new heavy-lift rocket, called the Space Launch System, that could launch an Orion capsule to the moon, an asteroid or Mars.
NASA has yet to announce an architecture for the rocket, but ATK says its five-segment booster "is designed to power NASA’s next generation space launch system."
ATK has also proposed the commercially operated "Liberty" crew launcher, which NASA so far has not awarded any development funding.
The 4:05 p.m. EDT static firing in Promontory, Utha, is officially labeled Demonstration Motor-3, or DM-3, is the third in a series and the most instrumented yet, collecting data from 979 channels.
The last test chilled the booster's core to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This one will heat it to 90 degrees. Click here for updates and follow tweets at @ATKRocketNews.
A press conference will follow the test at 5:10 p.m. EDT.
IMAGE: Ignition of Development Motor-2: DM-2 is the largest and most powerful solid rocket motor designed for flight. It is the most heavily instrumented solid rocket motor in NASA history with a total of 53 test objectives measured through more than 760 instruments. DM-2 was chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit as the test was designed to assess performance at the lowest end of the temperature range. The Aug. 31 static test was conducted by ATK Aerospace Systems in Promontory, Utah. DM-2 is managed by the Ares Projects Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. (Credit: NASA)