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NASA tested its new moon rocket in Mississippi, and it only caught on fire a little bit

The Space Launch System's engines wobbled dramatically during the static fire test, but did not trigger an abord. A small fire is visible in the upper right corner, where NASA says some tape ignited.
The Space Launch System's engines wobbled dramatically during the static fire test, but did not trigger an abord. A small fire is visible in the upper right corner, where NASA says some tape ignited. (Image credit: NASA TV)

NASA conducted its second major test of its powerful new moon rocket, and this time it only caught on fire a little bit.

The Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage test took place late Thursday afternoon (March 18) at NASA's coastal Mississippi test site, in a facility designed to hold the powerful machine in place while its engines fired up. The test marked the end of an eight-stage "green run" of the SLS's main rocket that was designed to show its spaceworthiness, theoretically setting it up for an actual test launch.

It was the agency's second go at firing SLS's Core Stage after a Jan. 16 test ended in an abort just 67.7 seconds after it began, due to a "major component failure" error. This time, NASA said it hoped to run the engines for at least 4 minutes to collect data. The test, aired on NASA's YouTube channel, ran for more than 8 minutes. Visible on a camera recording the engines was a small fire that NASA attributed to some tape used in the engine area unexpectedly igniting. 

"If the tape gets hot enough, that adhesive layer below the tape surface is going to start burning, so we clearly saw a lot of that," a NASA commentator said during the webcast. "But there was nothing that prompted shutdown early, which was really good news."

NASA's next step is to affix the Core Stage engines to the rest of the SLS and fly it into space for the first time. The agency has said it plans to eventually send the SLS on an uncrewed loop around the moon, though there's no firm date for that mission and the SLS project has been subject to delays in the past.

Long-term, the goal of SLS is to serve as a platform for the Artemis missions: a project to build a space station in orbit around the moon and use that station as a "gateway" to land astronauts on the moon's surface.

The 322-foot-tall (98 meters) SLS isn't as big as the 363-foot-tall (111 m) Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon in the 1960s. But the new engine is much more powerful: It produces about 15% more thrust during liftoff and is an overall more efficient cargo hauler.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.