A new rocket engine destined to propel U.S. astronauts on missions beyond Earth orbit will undergo its first full-duration test-firing today in Mississippi.
A derivative of the second stage engine that powered the Saturn V moon rocket, NASA's J2-X engine will provide upper-stage propulsion for the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket being built for future human expeditions to asteroids, the moon, Mars or the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.
The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne engine is scheduled to be fired for 500 seconds at 4 p.m. today at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
You can watch the test-firing live here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. A NASA news conference is scheduled after the test.
NASA's J2-X is the first human-rated rocket engine the agency has developed since the 1970s. It originally was intended to power the second stages of the Ares I and Ares V rockets being developed as part of the agency's cancelled Project Constellation, a program that aimed to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020.
The Obama Administration cancelled Constellation and initiated a project that directed NASA to invest in the development of commercial space taxis that could ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station and other destinations in low Earth orbit.
The development of the J2-X and NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle survived the cancellation and are continuing as the agency focuses on preparing for human expeditions beyond Earth orbit.
ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA image of a J2-X engine undergoing a 1.9-second ignition test this summer at Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Photo credit: NASA/Stennis Space Center.