NASA Successfully Tests Shuttle Rocket Successor

Though its future is up in the air, NASA's test of the 22 million horsepower rocket engine appears to have met expectations.

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NASA and ATK Aerospace Systems on Tuesday successfully tested a massive, five-segment rocket motor -- akin to the boosters attached to the space shuttles -- that was designed for the space agency's next generation of rockets.

The test of the prototype Ares rocket comes as the future spaceflight programs it might be used for are up in the air. The Obama administration has said it wants to cancel a program to send astronauts back to the moon. While Congressional leaders have expressed concerns with Obama's plans, Congress is looking for places to cut.

NASA has so far spent more than $1 billion on the Ares rocket, which would add more thrust beyond that provided by the space shuttle's booster rocket -- the equivalent of 22 million horsepower.

The stationary test of the rocket took place near the town of Corinne, Utah. Video from the site showed massive jets of flames and smoke emitting from the rocket as a crowd gathered some distance away to observe the test.

To ready for the test, the rocket was cooled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The two-minute, full-scale firing of the rocket, designed to test the rocket's performance at low temperatures, measured 53 test objectives through more than 760 instruments. According to NASA, the first numbers confirmed that performance met expectations.

"For every few degrees the temperature rises, solid propellant burns slightly faster and only through robust ground testing can we understand how material and motor performance is impacted by different operating conditions," Alex Priskos, first stage manager for Ares Projects at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a statement.

Beyond the additional stage, the Ares rocket also differs from current shuttle rockets in its larger nozzle throat, upgraded insulation and an upgraded liner. The test Tuesday was the second test for the Ares rocket. The earlier test, held last September, had also been deemed a success.