A lot can be learned by observing the scorching hot plume of a rocket booster, but first you have to be able to see it. Gizmodo reports that NASA has developed a new camera specifically for booster tests that records multiple slow-motion exposures simultaneously and combines them into one video. Never-before-seen details (previously hidden because of the brightness of the plume) are now clear enough for scientists to see during post-test analysis.
Still in the prototyping phase, the High Dynamic Range Stereo X project (HiDyRS-X) was first used to record tests of small rocket nozzle plumes at the Stennis Space Center. The camera got a promotion this past June during a final booster test for the Space Launch System (SLS) before its planned launch test in late 2018. (The SLS is slated for deep-space missions.)
The new view into the SLS's rocket plume was revealing. "I was amazed to see the ground support mirror bracket tumbling and the vortices shedding in the plume," structural dynamist Howard Conyers said in a statement. "I was able to clearly see the exhaust plume, nozzle and the nozzle fabric go through its gimbaling patterns, which is an expected condition, but usually unobservable in slow motion or normal playback rates."
Compare the still image and the video clip below to see the difference between NASA's standard booster photographing capabilities and what the HiDyRS-X was able to capture during the test.