Press Release

Successful NASA Test Leads Way for Safer Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor

By SpaceRef Editor
June 10, 2004
Filed under , , ,
Successful NASA Test Leads Way for Safer Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor

NASA’s Space Shuttle program successfully fired a full-scale Reusable Solid Rocket Motor at a Promontory, Utah, test facility today, testing modifications that will enhance the safety and integrity of the Space Shuttle.

One of the modifications is a slightly different propellant grain that changes the shape of the propellant in the forward segment of the Space Shuttle’s motor to increase the propellant’s strength. The new design improves flight safety by decreasing the risk of cracks in the propellant during storage and transportation, according to Jody Singer, manager of the Reusable Solid Rocket Motor Project, part of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office, located at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Final results from the test are not immediately available. The results will be used to qualify the modification for production and flight.

“Even though the modification is only a slight change from what we have flown on the Shuttle, it still requires a rigorous certification and verification process that includes testing,” said Mike Rudolphi, manager of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office. The motor is one of the four Shuttle propulsion elements.

“NASA has long adhered to the maxim, ‘Test what we fly; fly what we test,'” added Rudolphi. “This test is one in a series of tests performed to ensure this modification will perform as we expect.”

The propellant grain modification was one of 76 test objectives; 24 of those objectives will allow the Project Office to reevaluate materials, components and manufacturing processes that are currently in use such as nozzle bondlines, liner-to-housing bondlines, internal insulation, pressure transducers, and solvents.

The test will also provide additional information on a proposed safety enhancement to the motor’s nozzle. A new bolted assembly on the nozzle’s joint 5 is being tested for its strength.

The full-scale static – or stationary – test was performed at ATK Thiokol Propulsion Division, an Alliant Techsystems Inc., company in Promontory, Utah, north of Salt Lake City. ATK Thiokol manufactures the Space Shuttle’s Reusable Solid Rocket Motor.

Static firings of flight support motors are part of the ongoing verification of components, materials and manufacturing processes required by the Space Shuttle program. Flight support motors are tested annually to evaluate, validate and qualify any proposed improvements or changes to the motor. The two-minute test duration is the same length of time that the motors perform during Space Shuttle flights.

Data from the test will be analyzed and the results for each objective provided in a final report. The flight support motor’s metal case segments and nozzle components will be refurbished for reuse. 

This is the second test motor firing in less than a year for the Reusable Solid Rocket Motor Office. A five-segment engineering test motor demonstrated in October 2003 pushed the motor to its limits so engineers could validate the safety margins of the four-segment motor currently used to launch Space Shuttles.

At 126 feet (38.4 meters) long and 12 feet (3.6 meters) in diameter, the Space Shuttle’s Reusable Solid Rocket Motor is the largest solid rocket motor ever flown and the first designed for reuse. The motor, which is part of the Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Booster, is composed of four segments, each 30 feet long and filled with propellant. During liftoff, each motor generates an average thrust of 2.6 million pounds (1.2 million kilograms).

For information about NASA’s work to return Space Shuttles to safe flight, visit on the Internet:

SpaceRef staff editor.