While private space companies were making their move, NASA began testing the J-2X rocket engine, one of the powerhouses behind the agency’s Space Launch System that could drive the next stage of manned space exploration.
Engineers at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi successfully fired up the rocket for about 2 seconds in midsummer, 40 seconds in September, and 8 minutes in November. The J-2X is intended to transport the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and other cargo into deep space. “Its payload capability is truly incredible,” says engineer and project manager William Greene of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. “J-2X could take a habitat to the lunar surface or to Mars.” NASA hopes to put the system to work carrying humans to an asteroid by 2025.