On March 11, NASA tested the powerful five-segment booster for NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System. To provide critical data for the rocket’s first flight, eight cameras with more than 40 different settings — including varying exposures — were set up near the forward portion of the booster. During the two-minute test, the cameras were computer-controlled and cycled through pre-programmed settings.

Marshall Center engineers Jeremy Myers, left, and Jonathan Pryor set up cameras on the test stand at ATK’s facilities in Promontory, Utah, ahead of the successful March 11 SLS booster ground test. (Image Credit: NASA/Marshall)
The team is now using the footage to determine the best settings for the six externally mounted cameras that will be affixed to the SLS core stage when it carries an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit.

When completed, two five-segment solid-rocket boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS as it begins its deep-space missions. The boosters operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight, delivering more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape Earth’s gravitational pull.

A screenshot of the cameras cycling through different settings during the two-minute booster firing. (Image Credit: NASA/Marshall)
The footage from the booster test provides data that will allow the imagery team to optimize settings for two of the cameras that will be looking into the bright plume of the solid rocket boosters during that first flight.

“The flight cameras will help us determine how the vehicle is performing during ascent and booster separation, which can help reduce future risk in a unique way compared to sensors alone,” said Beth St. Peter, SLS imagery integration lead at Marshall. “That’s why we need the best settings possible for these cameras — if a scene is too dark or too bright, we can lose important data.”

After more lab testing at Marshall, the final settings for the flight cameras will be determined. Once qualification is complete, the hardware will be ready to help send the rocket, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, on its first flight test.

The booster static test — one of two ground tests to support qualification of the booster for flight — is a significant milestone for the SLS as part of NASA’s journey to Mars, and follows years of development. A second test is planned for early 2016.

The first flight test of the SLS will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity. As the SLS evolves, the rocket will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

To learn more, visit www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls.