Thousands of onlookers gawked as a column of flame exploded across the desert floor outside Promontory, Utah, yesterday Tuesday 28/06/2016 during a test of the engine that will help power NASA's next-generation rocket.
Lying horizontally, the engine for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket booster released a massive blast of flame and a wall of black smoke for two solid minutes during today's Qualification Motor-2 (QM-2) test. This is the last engine test before NASA's Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) in 2018, in which SLS will send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a flight beyond the orbit of the moon and back to Earth. Eventually, NASA aims to use Orion and SLS to send humans to Mars.
Today's test was delayed by about an hour due to a problem with the computer that controls the sequence of events during the test, NASA representatives said during the pretest broadcast on NASA TV. Click here to Watch the Space Launch System Booster Test
A massive crowd of spectators gathered in a viewing area, located about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the engine, to watch the 2-minute burn. Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas, who spoke with NASA TV during a live, prelaunch webcast, estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 people were present in the viewing area. Once the engine fired up, spectators saw the resulting bright light, but the explosive sound from the engine didn't reach the crowd until about 6 seconds later.
|Crowd in the NASA viewing area|
Today's QM-2 test of the SLS booster engine took place at facilities owned and operated by the private spaceflight company Orbital ATK. The company has been contracted by NASA to build the solid rocket booster that will "operate in parallel with SLS's main engines for the first two minutes of flight," according to the same NASA statement. (When it's complete, SLS will consist of a core stage with four main engines, along with two solid rocket boosters like the one that was tested today.)
In case you missed our earlier story on the NASA Rocket test prep, click here to read