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As the August launch date for NASA's first Artemis lunar mission approaches, Northrop Grumman has released dramatic video footage of a full-scale static fire test of the giant solid-fueled Flight Support Booster-2 that will power the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule into space.

Though they look small compared to the liquid-fueled booster core of the first stage of the SLS, the solid-rocket side boosters are more than meets the eye as they provide more than 75% of the initial thrust for the launch of the Artemis missions.

The largest solid rocket motor in the world, the Flight Support Booster-2 is 154 ft (47 m) long and composed of leftover booster segments originally built for the Space Shuttle program. Where the Shuttle solid rockets used only four stacked segments, the ones for the SLS have an additional center segment, new avionics, and lighter insulation. However, they do not have parachutes because the SLS configuration is designed to be expendable.

These modifications will provide the boosters with 25% more total impulse and there are enough segments for eight Artemis missions. After these are exhausted, Northrop Grumman will build new Booster Obsolescence and Life Extension (BOLE) boosters using segments left over from the canceled OmegA launch vehicle, which will provide improved performance.

According to Northrop Grumman, the July 21 test at the company's Promontory, Utah, test area saw the booster fire for two minutes and generate up to 3.6 million lb of thrust. Aside from the fireworks, the test allowed engineers to put a new motor ignition system, materials, and an electronic thrust vector control system through their paces, and to gather data from 300 channels that will be used for the follow-on BOLE boosters.

The booster segments for Artemis IV are now being cast and the first BOLE booster composite segment case will complete winding this October, with the first test firing scheduled for 2024.

"Continuous product improvements and obsolescence mitigation helps NASA achieve its long-term mission to utilize SLS for its Artemis program," said Wendy Williams, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. "This opportunity for early learning on next-generation systems will help us develop an enhanced booster that is ready to support the greater payload demands of the SLS rocket through 2031."

Source: Northrop Grumman