All Together Now!

Six main rocket engines from the Endeavour and Atlantis shuttles. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis


That’s a lot of power under one roof! For the first time in… well, ever… all fifteen Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) are together inside NASA’s Engine Shop at Kennedy Space Center. They will be prepped for shipment to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi where they’ll become part of the propulsion used on NASA’s next generation heavy-lift rocket: the Space Launch System.

The engines, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, are each 14 feet (4.2 meters) long & 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) in diameter at the end of its nozzle, and weighs approximately 7,000 lbs (3175 kg).

Photo from a test firing of an SSME at the Stennis Space Center in 1981. Credit: NASA.

Each engine is capable of generating a force of nearly 400,000 pounds (lbf) of thrust at liftoff, and consumes 350 gallons (1,340 liters) of fuel per second. They are engineered to burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, creating exhaust composed primarily of water vapor.

The engines will be incorporated into the Space Launch System (SLS), which is designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle – also currently in development – as well as serve as backup for commercial and international transportation to the ISS. By utilizing current technology and adapting it for future needs, NASA will be able to make the next leap in human spaceflight and space exploration – while getting the most “bang” out of the taxpayers’ bucks.

“NASA has been making steady progress toward realizing the president’s goal of deep space exploration, while doing so in a more affordable way. We have been driving down the costs on the Space Launch System and Orion contracts by adopting new ways of doing business and project hundreds of millions of dollars of savings each year.” 

–  NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

Nine of the 15 SSMEs await shipment inside NASA's Engine Shop. Each weighs approximately 7,000 lbs. Credit: NASA.

While it’s sad to see these amazing machines removed from the shuttles, it’s good to know that they still have plenty of life left in them and will soon once again be able to take people into orbit and beyond!

Read more about the Space Launch System here.