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Rocket motor test helps NASA's shuttle and Ares 1
Posted: December 5, 2008

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA's Space Shuttle Program on Thursday successfully conducted a test firing of a space shuttle reusable solid rocket motor in Utah.

Credit: ATK
The flight support motor, or FSM-15, burned for approximately 123 seconds, the same time each reusable solid rocket motor burns during an actual space shuttle launch.

The test evaluated possible performance changes as shuttle motors age. Space shuttle solid rocket motors are certified for flight for five years from their date of manufacture. The more than seven-year-old, four-segment motor tested Thursday is the oldest ever fired.

The test further substantiated the certification that was established by NASA at the beginning of the shuttle program. It also provided important information for continued launches of the shuttle and development of the Ares 1 rocket, a key component of NASA's Constellation Program that will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle on missions to the moon.

Ares 1 test objectives included performance data on a new nozzle design that would increase robustness and measurement of environmental changes caused by motor pressure and sound. This valuable data will assist in the final design of the launch structure for Ares 1 rockets by engineers from NASA and ATK Launch Systems Group of Promontory, Utah -- a unit of Alliant Techsystems Inc. -- which manufactures space shuttle solid rocket motors.

"This test is an example of the aggressive testing program NASA pursues to assure flight safety," said David Beaman, manager of the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "It also allows us to gather information on how motors with different ages perform."

Preliminary indications are that all test objectives were met. After final test data are analyzed, results for each objective will be published in a NASA report.

The Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project Office at the Marshall Center managed the test.

A space shuttle launch requires the power of two reusable solid rocket booster motors to lift the 4.5-million-pound shuttle vehicle. Each solid rocket booster burns for approximately 123 seconds and generates an average thrust of 2.6 million pounds. In this latest test, the motor generated 3.3 million pounds maximum thrust for two minutes.