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NASA's Most Powerful Rocket Boosters Shook Utah This Week

Mar 12, 2015 09:08 PM EDT
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The world's largest and most powerful rocket booster ever built fired up this week, marking a major milestone in NASA's - not to mention humanity's - journey to Mars and beyond.

The 1.6 million pound boosters of NASA's new flagship rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), filled the test faculties in Promontory, Utah on Wednesday, with their propellant heating up to just about 90 degrees Fahrenheit even as rocket jets that could melt your face off left each booster's end.

This test ensured that the boosters will indeed function well even under sweltering conditions, and the heat that it generates unto itself. A test in the near future will be launched early next year, under cold-temperature conditions, with its propellant at a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Together those two tests will provide data that will ensure that the boosters' propellant will burn strong and true at any reasonable temperature, allowing the SLS to lift an unprecedented capacity of 130 metric tons of weight. That's more than enough capacity to carry large-mission spacecraft like the Orion craft, its crew, and supplies, for a manned mission to Mars.

The next most powerful rocket, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (also in the developmental stage), can only lift a third of that weight.

"The work being done around the country today to build SLS is laying a solid foundation for future exploration missions, and these missions will enable us to pioneer far into the solar system," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a statement. "The teams are doing tremendous work to develop what will be a national asset for human exploration and potential science missions."

When testing is complete, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS on deep space missions. The 177-foot-long solid rocket boosters tested on Wednesday operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight, proving more than three-fourths of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape Earth's gravity.

Many more tests are still to come, pushing the new SLS technology and its engineering team to the limit. However, those tests will add up, culminating to the rocket's first historic flight test slated for November 2018.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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