Nasa ignites huge Mars rocket with fiery test in Utah desert


Larger version of solid rocket booster used on shuttle will form part of Space Launch System propelling astronauts beyond Earths orbit

Nasa has successfully tested a huge rocket motor that will one day propel astronauts out of Earths orbit and towards Mars.

It was the second and final test-firing of the solid rocket booster designed for Nasas Space Launch System (SLS). The debut launch from Floridas Kennedy Space Center in 2018 will not carry people, but a few years later astronauts are scheduled to climb aboard for a flight near the moon.

Tuesdays ground test, lasting a full two minutes, was conducted by Orbital ATK, the Nasa contractor that also made the smaller shuttle boosters for Nasa. This 47-metre (154ft) booster was mounted horizontally and pointing towards a mountain near Promontory, Utah, when it spewed out flames and smoke producing 3.6m pounds of rocket thrust in the test on Tuesday, watched by crowds on a nearby ridge.

Each SLS rocket will have two boosters along with four main engines. There would ultimately be 9m pounds of thrust at liftoff, considerably more than the now-retired shuttle, said former astronaut Charles Precourt, an Orbital ATK vice-president.

Precourt said the team had worked nonstop over the past five weeks to prepare for Tuesdays milestone. Really a delight, he said.

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