To get the world's most powerful rocket off the ground, it's going to take some serious thrust from its rocket boosters. Today, NASA successfully tested one of those 70-tonne rocket boosters by lighting it up at full power — all while never leaving the ground. The rocket booster appeared to work just as expected on its test. To really know how it performed, of course, we'll have to wait for the engineers to let the rocket cool down and take it apart. But the pictures showed a test that went pretty flawlessly:
There will actually be two of those boosters attached to NASA's SLS rocket when it blasts off on its first scheduled test flight in 2018. NASA has pinned its hopes for a future Mars mission on that SLS rocket — but first it needs to prove the rocket is ready to get off the ground. In preparation, NASA has been testing the rocket piece-by-piece.
The engine passed its test last August, but the boosters are perhaps even more important to a rocket as big as the SLS. When it finally lifts off, over 75 per cent of the power that the SLS rocket needs to get out of our atmosphere will come from the boosters.
In today's test, the booster burned for a full two minutes, the same amount of time that it will need to run to get the SLS rocket lifted off the ground when it's finally put into action.
This is actually the second time the rocket booster has run a ground test. The first one was back in March and showed that the booster could not only run for two minutes at full power, it could do it at the hottest temperatures it is rated to see during lift-off. Today's test checked the propellant at its coldest-rated temperatures: 4C. Although the propellant stays reasonably cool, the temperatures inside the booster soar over 3100C during the test. The test was on-hold while NASA resolved a computer problem with the system, but it eventually went ahead, just an hour behind schedule. And boy was it spectacular.
GIFs made by Gizmodo using footage from NASA