NASA has safely completed a test firing of its next generation launch vehicle engine, which is intended to carry loads into orbit more efficiently and sustainably.

Space engineers hailed a succesful 499.97 second firing of its J-2X rocket engine, the successor to the J-2 and the J-2S, on November 9, 2011. This is just one thing of the many missions that NASA has planned for the future.

The test firing marked another step in the development of NASA's heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS), which is expected to replace the Space Shuttle following the cancellation of the over-budget and problematic Constellation programme.

The J-2X could be used as the second-stage engine for the SLS, which will be capable of carrying both unmanned and manned trips around the moon. It's the same heavy launch vehicle that will carry the manned Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) on deep space missions that will last up to 21 days. According to NASA the SLS will be safe, affordable and sustainable.

In addition to testing the J-2X, NASA plans to flight-test the Orion spacecraft, made by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in 2014. Orion was originally a part of the now-cancelled Constellation programme, but NASA retooled its development to fit the SLS, and as part of the SLS it will fly on the J-2X. According to NASA, the 2014 flight will be unmanned, will fly two orbits high above the Earth, and it will make a water landing.

The J-2X itself is a rocket engine capable of 294,490 pounds-force (lbf) of thrust that uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel. The J-2X comes via Pratt & Whitney Rockedyne, a rocket engine designer and manufacturer. The original J-2 motor was used on the Saturn V and the Saturn 1B rockets which are famous for the Apollo project and Skylab.

According to Mike Kynard, Space Launch System Engines Element Manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the J-2X engine team and the SLS programme are extremely happy that the test was safe and successful, and that "this engine test firing gives us critical data to move forward in the engine's development."

In time, this rocket engine will carry man back into space on long deep space missions.