No, it’s not the toilet blockage from hell. Rather, it’s a system to keep a lid on the torrent of heat and noise generated by a rocket launch.
NASA recently released footage (above) showing a test of the setup, known officially as the Ignition Overpressure Protection and Sound Suppression Water Deluge System.
The video, which was shot last week at the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B, shows the release of a colossal 450,000 gallons of water in the space of just over a minute.
As you can see, the test sends water around 100 feet into the air, creating a spectacular sight that NASA has joked gives Old Faithful a run for its money.
Commenting after a similar test earlier this year, Nick Moss, NASA’s pad deputy project manager, said a geyser occurred because a mobile launcher wasn’t present at the pad. “When the mobile launcher is sitting on its pad surface mount mechanisms, the rest of the Ignition Over-Pressure/Sound Suppression System is connected to the pad supply headers and the water will flow through supply piping and exit through the nozzles,” Moss explained.
NASA said that as the water subsides, “it flows into the flame trench and onto the east pad surface before finding its way to the east and west holding ponds through channels, called water flumes, or off the pad surface through the water drains and trenches,” adding that during an actual launch, the heat will cause some of the water to evaporate.
The recent test was undertaken as part of preparations for the planned 2020 launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 test flight to the moon using the Orion spacecraft, and for subsequent manned missions deeper into space.
SLS is almost equal in strength to SpaceX’s in-development BFR, with both of these rockets the only ones set to surpass the power of Saturn V, the rocket that thrust multiple moon missions into space in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
NASA earlier this year anchored its RS-25 booster engine — one of four for the SLS rocket — to the ground for a test that powered the booster to a 113-percent thrust level for almost a minute. You can watch the impressive results here.