Orbital ATK, NASA Test Five-Segment SLS Rocket Motor

PROMONTORY, Utah, 11 March 2015 (Orbital ATK PR) – NASA and Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA) today conducted the first qualification ground test of the five-segment rocket motor that will be used for NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), which is being designed to enable exciting new exploration missions throughout the solar system.

The successful pre-flight test, known as Qualification Motor 1 (QM-1), is an important milestone in validating the rocket motor’s use for SLS and its deep space missions. Initial test data indicate the motor performed as designed and delivered the anticipated performance. The rocket motor produced approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust (equivalent to 22 million horsepower) and fired for just over two minutes. More data will be available as post-test analysis is accomplished on the 102 design objectives that are supported by 531 instrumentation channels.

“This motor firing is the first of two qualification tests to certify the motor configuration for NASA’s Space Launch System,” said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division, and four-time space shuttle astronaut. “The data from today and from our three development motor tests, along with information we have collected on hundreds of predecessor motors over the past three decades, confirms this is the most capable and powerful solid rocket motor ever designed.”

QM-1 static test (Credit: Orbital ATK)
QM-1 static test (Credit: NASA)

Measuring 12 feet in diameter and 154 feet in length, Orbital ATK’s five-segment motor is the largest human-rated solid rocket motor built today. When it is fully assembled as a booster, it will be 177 feet tall (approximately 17 stories). It produces 20 percent more power than the previously-used four-segment motor, and it also uses new materials that provide cost and weight savings. The five-segment motor was designed to maximize safety while providing a reliable and affordable launch capability for human missions deeper in the solar system than we have ever gone before – including to the surface of Mars.

“NASA’s SLS, along with the Orion crew capsule, enables us to blaze new trails, and embark on missions to deep space that leverage more than five decades of pushing boundaries,” said Blake Larson, Orbital ATK’s Chief Operating Officer. “Deep space missions require a heavy-lift vehicle to ensure success, and SLS and Orion can accomplish a deep space mission in fewer launches than current or planned vehicles.”

Today’s qualification test included newly-designed avionics hardware and equipment to control the motor and provide improved test monitoring capability. Other test improvements include a new main pivot flexure design in the forward thrust block to transfer the massive forces from the test into the various load cells for thrust monitoring, as well as an added mid-span support that assisted in adjusting the motor centerline to make the test more consistent with actual flight conditions.

QM-1 static test (Credit: Orbital ATK)
QM-1 static test (Credit: Orbital ATK)

“This is an exciting time for exploration, as we venture farther into space,” said Precourt. “The promise of deep space exploration will inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math – preparing them to run the missions we’re designing.”

NASA’s SLS will launch on its first mission, Exploration Mission-1, in just a few years. The next major milestones for SLS include Boeing’s Vertical Assembly Center core stage welding, continued testing of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, avionics and controls testing at Marshall Space Flight Center, and Orbital ATK’s QM-2 static firing next year.

The SLS and Orion programs are supported by a network of hundreds of suppliers representing 47 states. Orbital ATK has 29 key SLS booster suppliers across 16 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

About Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies.  The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier.  Its main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition; satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs more than 12,000 people in 20 states across the U.S. and in several international locations.  For more information, visit www.orbitalatk.com.

  • The exquisite American delusion continues. In the future there will be lots of explaining.

  • Michael J. Listner

    That was a pretty impressive test. I was watching the hills next to it steaming from the heat.

  • newpapyrus

    As a cargo rocket, the SLS will be a game changer that will make it easy to deploy large and heavy reusable spacecraft, habitats, and other payloads practically anywhere within cis-lunar space.


  • Jeff Smith

    Michael, that’s actually loose dust being kicked up into the air by the low frequency vibration.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Lol, it sure looked like steam!

  • Dumb is the new cool, apparently.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Another intelligent contribution.

  • Matt

    I like solid rockets, but it is a quite a mess in environmental terms. A lot of HCl
    and carbon black was produced. It looks like a bit as passed by better
    solutions as SpaceX demonstrates. However, it is important on the other hand for
    US strategic missile arsenal to keep solid rocket production capability

  • Matt

    Yes, it is steam.

  • As intelligent as blowing billions of dollars and a decade on a giant firecracker that will never fly? I’m astonished that Orbital even decided to get involved with this travesty, but obviously it’s a profitable endeavor – endlessly testing and never flying. The toxic waste cleanup will have to be funded by the taxpayer as well, so that’s just extra revenue for them. That’s business!

  • They use lots of shuttle era segmented SRBs. Therefore the result follows.

  • Matt

    I know, I have been observed that stuff from the very beginning. 🙂

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    I respectfully disagree. Among other things, its proposed flight rate prevents it from being useful.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    My American delusion is that in the (near) future, we will have rapidly and fully reusable spacecraft which enable hundreds of people to live and work in Earth orbit and settle other celestial bodies. We won’t have a space program, we’ll have a space economy.

    But I’m just a dumb American!

  • Michael J. Listner

    Maybe it will fly; maybe it won’t. Neither of us can say for sure. As for the toxic waste, well, rocketry tends to be a messy business.

  • I am of the opinion that high flight rate reusable rocketry with simple molecular cryogenic propellants will be a considerably less messy and more efficient business. Not good for the toxic waste remediation business, but good for the American people. Not good for the endless testing, spewing out toxic waste and never flying business, but good for real honest businesses.

  • James

    Yea all 4 times until we run out of old engines then we have to build more in a new factory for billions more.

    I am sure the money will just fall from the heavens though to get us those 2 more launches per year.

  • windbourne

    Yes, we need those solid rockets. So does Russia, China, France, UK, Germany, etc.

  • windbourne

    It is a nice thought, but I think that it will NOT be a game changer for multiple reasons:
    1) SLS is prohibited from launching private loads by laws that the neo-cons set up. As such, only NASA and DOD can use it.
    2) BUT, at 1-3B / launch, neither group will want it.
    3) SLS will only launch 70 tonnes into LEO and that is at 1-3B / launch. OTOH, FH will launch 54 tonnes into LEO for around .1B. So, you can launch a minimum of 540-1500 tonnes TO LEO for the same price as SLS putting up 70 tonnes.

    And as far as payload goes, take the example of BA. Yes, the FH can not take up BA2100. But, then again, neither can the SLS, even if allowed to.
    The SLS could take up about BA1900. However, the FH can take up not only BA-330s, but also about a BA1400 or so. And with a price of only .1B, I suspect that BA will choose the later.

  • stoffer

    But are solid rockets really necessary here? I understand the role of solids in quick response, storable launchers. Heck I could imagine a 3 stage, all-solid Atlas V payload class launcher, with SRB based 1st stage. Makes perfect sense to me. But this thing? I could understand a big dumb booster, like the Sea Dragon. Or the Bono’s Rombus. Why build this lovechild of Saturn V and the Space Shuttle which takes the worst of both?

  • Matt

    That pic may fit to our discussion below.

  • Matt

    That pic may fit to our discussion here.

  • Gary Church

    Most powerful rocket booster on Earth. With a shuttle heritage of over 200 perfect firings in a row. And of course hated by SpaceX fans.