Updated Jan 17, 2021 - Science

NASA stages test of its next huge rocket

A cloud of smoke produced by a test firing of NASA's Space Launch System rocket

The SLS rocket comes to life. Photo: NASA TV

NASA staged a ground test of its Space Launch System rocket Saturday. The test — which was expected to see the four engines of the core stage of the huge rocket fire for eight minutes — ended after a little more than a minute.

Why it matters: The SLS, which is years behind schedule, is key to NASA's plans to send people to deep space destinations like the Moon.

Details: This test was designed to be the rocket's last big milestone ahead of being shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center for its first uncrewed flight to space expected at the end of the year.

  • Engineers are investigating the cause of the early shutdown, and it's not clear whether the space agency will need to re-do the test ahead of shipping the rocket.
  • NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press briefing that "it's still too early to tell," whether or not the first flight of the SLS could happen this year.

The big picture: The SLS is years delayed and billions of dollars over budget.

  • NASA plans to send people back to the surface of the Moon by 2024, but additional delays to the SLS will make meeting that already ambitious deadline increasingly difficult.

Go deeper: The next big NASA rocket's time has come

Editor's note: This story was updated with more information from a post-test NASA press briefing.

Go deeper