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NASA just fired up its SLS booster for the first time and, well, wow

Published Sep 3rd, 2020 6:34PM EDT
space launch system test
Image: 3dsculptor/Adobe
  • NASA successfully fired its solid rocket booster that will be part of the Space Launch System rocket.
  • The test was conducted in Utah at the facilities of manufacturer Northrop Grumman.
  • The program has been plagued with delays and cost overruns since its inception.

The Space Launch System is NASA’s biggest bet on the future of space exploration. It’s a rocket platform capable of propelling missions (including crewed missions) to the Moon, Mars, and perhaps beyond. It’s struggled with delays and budget woes in recent years but things seem to finally be coming together, and NASA was able to broadcast the test firing of one of the SLS solid rocket boosters this week in Utah.

The booster, which will be one of two that will help push spacecraft up and out of Earth’s atmosphere, needed to do two things during the testing. First, it had to actually light up. Second, it had to not blow up. It managed to complete both of those objectives.

The test was relatively brief, but when you have boosters as powerful as these you don’t really have to fire them for all that long. The booster was strapped to the testing area and secured so that it would go anywhere — which would have been bad — and the countdown was initiated. The booster fired right up and spewed flames for an incredible distance, lighting some ground brush on fire and spewing smoke into the air.

It was quite the scene. Check it out in the video below. The actual firing of the booster doesn’t begin until the 20:10 mark.

Some of the angles of the video are truly jaw-dropping, and seeing how far the booster can shoot its column of flames is pretty impressive. After the firing, an instrument is inserted into the end of the booster to flood it with CO2 and put out the flames, resulting in a dense fog settling over the testing area. In one final shot, you can see a fire breaking out on the hill to the side of the testing area. Let’s hope Northrop Grumman had someone on hand to put that out. We don’t need any more wildfires in the US, thank you very much.

The Space Launch System is the most powerful rocket NASA will have ever built. It’s a huge project, but it’s had more than its fair share of setbacks. The budget for the rocket platform is completely out of whack in comparison to original projections, and manufacturer Northrop Grumman has repeatedly fallen short of expectations and missed milestones. Unfortunately for NASA, they’ve already invested too much into the project to pull out now, and while the date of the first test flight continues to see delays, it seems we’ll eventually get to see this bird fly.

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