PROMONTORY, UTAH – The first few seconds there was only light and smoke – then came the roar. The sound was so intense – it moved the Earth beneath the feet of the throngs of visitors that had come to see the test fire of NASA and ATK’s Development Motor-2 (DM-2). For those that have witnessed shuttle and rocket launches in the past – this was an altogether new and powerful experience.
When one watches a shuttle launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the closest one can do so – is from a little over three miles away. Viewing the test fire of the first-stage, five-segment test article of the Ares rocket – was a far more intimate affair. In the deserts of Utah, you could feel the heat from the solid rocket motor, taste the chemicals of exhaust and smell the fury that was unleashed in the desolate countryside.
As the countdown clock clicked down to zero – the DM-2 fired to life right on schedule at 9:27 a.m. MDT. The 2-min. 5-sec. test tested out key elements of the Ares rocket – a system the Obama administration is trying to cancel in favor of rockets produced by smaller, unproven companies. These firms would take over the business of carrying crew and cargo to low Earth orbit while NASA would focus on exploration.
The first test of the Development Motor was held at ambient temperatures – not so this time around. The DM-2 was chilled to 40 degrees. There were some 53 new design elements that this test sought to check out. Some of these elements include the redesigned rocket nozzle, new insulation and the motor casing’s liner. When ignited, the DM-2 produced about 3.6 million lb. of thrust, equaling approximately 22 million hp. The motor was covered with 760 sensors to collect this important data.
“A lot of our objectives are to evaluate the motor’s performance,” says Kent Rominger, a five-time shuttle astronaut who is ATK’s vice president of test and research operations. “Many of these objectives center around this motor being chilled to gain data on performance at low temperatures.”
It cost approximately $75 million to conduct the test of the 154-ft.-long DM-2. The Solid Rocket Motor is comprised of solid rocket booster (SRB) segments that have flown on some 59 space shuttle missions. Once they are jettisoned from the shuttle they are retrieved out in the Atlantic Ocean by the Freedom Star and Liberty Star Recovery vessels. From there they are shipped by to ATK where they broken down and refurbished.