Last week, the space agency performed two tests of the water-deluge system at Launch Complex 39B at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, and they were a sight to behold.
Huge columns of water jetted 100 feet (30 meters) into the sky, then came crashing down on the pad with tremendous and reverberating roars. Recently released video of one of the tests, conducted on Oct. 15, shows the dramatic action. [Photos: NASA's Space Launch System for Deep Space Flights]
Such tests of the "Ignition Overpressure Protection and Sound Suppression" system are part of the work NASA is doing to prep for liftoffs of the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket. That booster is scheduled to fly for the first time in mid-2020.
The maiden launch will send NASA's Orion capsule on a three-week trek around the moon — an uncrewed test flight known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).
"During the launch of Exploration Mission-1 and subsequent missions, this water-deluge system will release approximately 450,000 gallons [1.7 million liters] of water across the mobile launcher and flame deflector to reduce the extreme heat and energy generated by the rocket during ignition and liftoff," NASA officials wrote in a description of the recent flow test at Pad 39B.
NASA is developing the SLS and Orion to help astronauts get to the moon, Mars and other destinations in deep space. The huge, powerful rocket should also aid robotic planetary exploration, allowing such missions to reach their faraway targets much faster than has typically been possible, agency officials have said.
Orion has one uncrewed test flight under its belt. In December of 2014, the capsule launched to Earth orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and completed two laps around our planet before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA also tested Pad 39B's water-deluge system in May of this year. The system was upgraded between that earlier trial and the ones conducted last week, agency officials said.
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There," will be published on Nov. 13 by Grand Central Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Originally published on Space.com.