Final Preflight Qualification Test Complete for Mars Rocket Booster

Bolted to the side of a remote hillside in northern Utah, Orbital ATK's solid rocket booster completed its fifth and final preflight qualification test before it blasts off as part of NASA's future Mars-bound rocket. 

A recycled remnant of the boosters used during the space shuttle program, the modified 47-meter rocket ignited at 11:05am ET Tuesday, following an hour-long delay due to ground computer issues. 

Image courtesy of NASA TV

Image courtesy of NASA TV

Image courtesy of NASA TV

Image courtesy of NASA TV

Members of the press, Orbital ATK employees, and VIPs watched the 2 minute, 6 second display from a safe distance, as the booster's 1.4 million pounds of powdered aluminum fuel and oxidizer ignited and exploded out from the engine's skirt.

Slated for late 2018, NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) will be the first launch of the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which the agency hopes will propel astronauts to Mars in the coming decades.

Mounted symmetrically to the SLS core stage, two of these solid-fuel boosters will provide over 6.5 million pounds of combined thrust during the rocket's first 2 minutes after launch. At a total of 8.4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever to reach orbit.

Click to enlarge. Image credit: NASA

Constructed at Orbital ATK's facility in Promontory, Utah, the SLS boosters are being modified from their time launching space shuttles. By adding a fifth segment to the existing four-section boosters, Orbital ATK engineers have increased the rockets' impulse by up to 25%.

Pending the completion of the SLS core stage at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, the complete SLS rocket and boosters will be stacked and mated inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

EM-1, the unmanned test flight of the SLS rocket, is on track to launch sometime in late 2018.