spaceSpace and Physics

Don't Miss NASA's Amazing Rocket Booster Test Today In The Utah Desert


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

An image from the first test back in March 2015. NASA

(Update: NASA has delayed the start of the test to 11.05am EDT (4.05pm BST) due to "computer issues".)

Rocket launches are pretty cool, right? Sure. But what’s also cool is testing out a full rocket booster in the middle of a desert. And that’s exactly what NASA is going to be doing today.


At 10.05am EDT (3.05pm BST) 11.05am EDT (4.05pm BST) today, NASA will begin the test of a solid rocket booster (SRB) for its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the giant launch vehicle that is intended to one day send humans to Mars. This is the second test of the booster (the first was in March 2015, and it was pretty spectacular), but this time it will be run at a much lower temperature.

The test is taking place at Orbital ATK’s test site in Promontory, Utah. The booster, which will be lying on its side, will be ignited, sending a huge rocket plume (and resultant dust and sand with it) out to the side. Last time around, the booster was operated at a temperature of 32°C (90°F), the highest the propellant can be. This time, it’ll be at 4°C (40°F), the colder extreme of the booster’s operating temperature.

As mentioned, the ultimate goal of the SLS is to be used to transport humans and cargo to Mars. It will be the most powerful rocket in operation when it makes its first flight in 2018, more powerful even than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, although some are questioning the need for the SLS what with SpaceX announcing they want to begin missions to Mars as early as 2018.

At the moment, though, development of the SLS is continuing, with this being the last time you’ll see the boosters ignited before the first actual flight of the rocket. That mission in two years, called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will launch an unmanned Orion capsule to the Moon and back.


To catch all the action from today, NASA will be streaming the test live on NASA TV, which you can watch below. The booster will fire for two minutes, and based on the test last time around, it’s going to be pretty impressive. Make sure you tune in.


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