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Booting the Boosters of the SLS: Testing Continues

Oct 23, 2014 04:24 PM EDT

The boosters are the pride and flair of any rocket. Without these powerful and fiery plumes, a rocket is nothing more than a tall hunk of metal, fuel, and wasted engineering. However, once their job is finished, boosters become a massive burden that an ascending rocket needs to quickly shed.

NASA has now moved on to testing how the incredibly large and powerful boosters of the flagship Space Launch System (SLS) - the agency's new deep space rocket - will separate from the core stage once they've done their job.

According to NASA, the boosters of the SLS will need to be able to get a 5.5-million-pound rocket into the air, and that means that they will need to be pretty big and heavy themselves. Once the boosters break away from the rocket, there is a chance that the loss of their mass can sway where the rocket is headed - something that obviously needs to be avoided if astronauts want to get where they plan to go. They can also influence the overall aerodynamic properties of the SLS.

"Booster separation is a very critical phase of flight for the Space Launch System because the clearance between the core stage and the boosters is very small as they are pushed away," engineer Jeremy Pinier explained in a statement. "It's only about an inch full-scale so the boosters are almost grazing the core stage, but we can't allow any contact whatsoever between the two in the real flight."

That's why Pinier and his fellow engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia recently tested a 35-inch SLS booster separation model in its Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, with air speeds of over 2,400 mph.

The engineers reportedly ran 800 separation runs in all, collecting valuable data that will be closely considered before the actual SLS boosters are even put through practical production.

Similar tests were ran to ensure that the integrity of the boosters, the core, and the pad the SLS will launch from will all be able to withstand the sheer sound of the boosters firing, bringing the SLS one step closer to seeing humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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