Nov. 17, 2006
Katherine Trinidad/Michael Braukus
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
ROCKET MOTOR TEST HELPS NASA’S SHUTTLE AND ARES 1
PROMONTORY, Utah - NASA’s Space Shuttle Program successfully fired a
reusable solid rocket motor Thursday, Nov. 16, at a Utah facility.
The two-minute test provided important information for nighttime
shuttle launches and for the development of the rocket that will
carry the next human spacecraft to the moon.
The static firing of the full-scale, full-duration flight support
motor was performed at 6 p.m. MST at ATK Launch Systems Group, a unit
of Alliant Techsystems Inc. in Promontory, Utah, where the shuttle’s
solid rocket motors are manufactured.
The flight support motor, or FSM-13, burned for approximately 123
seconds, the same time each reusable solid rocket motor burns during
an actual space shuttle launch. The Reusable Solid Rocket Motor
Project Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
Ala., manages these tests to qualify any proposed changes to the
rocket motor and to determine whether new materials perform as well
as those now in use.
The motor firing also provided the Space Shuttle Program with data on
how image quality is affected by night launch conditions. The data
will help determine camera settings and techniques that are most
suitable for future night shuttle launches and those which could
possibly enhance imagery gathered during a day launch.
“Full-scale static testing such as this is a key element of the ‘test
before you fly’ standard and ensures continued quality and
performance,” said Jody Singer, manager of the Reusable Solid Rocket
Motor Project, part of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office at
The shuttle solid rocket motor firing also supports NASA’s future
exploration goals to return humans to the moon. The test provided
data for development of the first stage reusable solid rocket motor
for NASA’s Ares I, the launch vehicle that will carry the Orion crew
module to space. Engineers with NASA’s Exploration Launch Projects
Office at Marshall, which manages the Ares launch vehicles, will
analyze motor-induced, roll-torque measurements. The information -
how the motor affects the rotation and twisting of a system - is
needed for the Ares I control system design.
Thursday night’s test provided data on numerous process, material and
design changes planned for shuttle solid rocket motors, including a
propellant structural redesign that more evenly distributes loads and
improves safety during storage and transportation; an improved
adhesive bonding process to eliminate insulation voids and increase
bond strength; and a new nozzle liner material to replace a material
that is no longer available. Stress data was also gathered on an
instrumented external tank attachment ring, which connects the solid
rocket booster to the shuttle’s external fuel tank.
Preliminary indications are that all test objectives were met. After
final test data are analyzed, results for each objective will be
published by NASA in a report that will be available early next year.
The shuttle’s reusable solid rocket motor is the largest solid rocket
motor ever flown, the only one rated for human flight and the first
designed for reuse. Each shuttle launch requires two reusable solid
rocket motors to lift the 4.5-million-pound shuttle. The motors
provide 80 percent of the thrust during the first two minutes of
flight. Each motor, just over 126 feet long and 12 feet in diameter,
generates an average thrust of 2.6 million pounds. It is the primary
component of the shuttle’s twin solid rocket boosters.
During a shuttle launch, the rockets take the shuttle to an altitude
of 28 miles at a speed of 3,094 mph before they separate and fall
into the ocean. Then they are retrieved, refurbished and prepared for
Regular static-fire tests of the motors help maintain the highest
safety, quality and reliability standards of solid rocket motors used
for human spaceflight. Engineers conduct approximately 110,000
quality-control inspections on each motor designed for flight.
For more information about the Space Shuttle Program, visit:
For more information about the Ares 1 launch system, visit: