NASA test fires upgraded rocket engines for future Artemis moon missions (video)

NASA fired up an engine Wednesday (Feb. 8) to boost human moon missions.

The RS-25 engine, a veteran of the space shuttle program, has a new design for the NASA's Artemis program. Starting with Artemis 5 late in the 2020s or so, the modified engines will fly on the Space Launch System

NASA says the newer RS-25s will deliver even more power to send the Orion spacecraft, astronauts and other big payloads to the moon or  to the lunar space station Gateway. But first the engines need to be prepped for the long journey.

The test Wednesday at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi saw a recycled RS-25 engine fire in a test stand at 111 percent power on a livestream for 8.5 minutes, or 500 seconds; that's the same amount of time and power required for a launch.

Related: The 10 greatest images from NASA's Artemis 1 moon mission

Smoke pours out of the test stand during the static test fire of an RS-25 engine on Feb. 9, 2023. (Image credit: NASA / Stennis)

All RS-25 engines flew numerous times in space during the shuttle era, which ranged from 1981 to 2011. NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne modified 16 engines that are remaining from that program and have already completed tests for the first four Artemis missions to prove they are fit for flight.

RS-25 engine tests have been happening since Jan. 9, 2015, but NASA is readying the series now for the next generation of SLS, called Block 1B. (The series for Artemis 1 through 4 is called Block 1).

The newer set of rockets includes a more powerful Exploration Upper Stage that will allow for more massive payloads to be boosted to lunar orbit or the surface, according to agency documentation.

NASA wants to make sure each of the reused engines is ready for lunar action as the Artemis program ramps up. Artemis 1 flew uncrewed in 2022, Artemis 2's astronauts should be announced this spring for a moon-circling mission in 2024, and Artemis 3 is bound for the surface no earlier than 2025.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: