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On March 18, 2021, NASA successfully tested the core stage of the Space Launch System in Mississippi. The plume was seen by a weather satellite.


NASA/Robert Markowitz

On Mar. 18, NASA test-fired the core stage of its honking huge Space Launch System rocket, which is designed to power the agency’s ambitious Artemis moon missions. The footage from the ground was spectacular, with the four engines kicking out a massive white plume that floated into a forest near the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The plume was so big, it was spotted by the NOAA/NASA Goes-East weather satellite.

NASA fired the engines for just over eight minutes, creating a huge steam cloud in the process. NASA’s weather observation-focused SPoRT team shared the satellite view of the test on Thursday.

The GIF shows a band of clouds moving across the top of the view. The SLS test’s rocket-made cloud appears as a small but noticeable puff. A yellow arrow points out its location.

That puff of white was the NASA SLS test on Mar. 18 as seen by the Goes-East satellite.


NASA SPoRT/Goes-East satellite data

The satellite captured the action with its Advanced Baseline Imager from a great distance. “Several of the ABI’s sixteen spectral bands aboard GOES-East were able to easily detect the intense plume, likely composed of condensation, from 22,236 miles above the surface,” the SPoRT team said in a statement.

The view from above is a testament to both the satellite’s sensitivity and the sheer power of the SLS rocket, which NASA describes as “the most powerful rocket we’ve ever built.” 

The agency is working toward the Artemis I mission, an uncrewed around-the-moon expedition meant to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft prior to sending humans back to our lunar neighbor for a visit. The hot-fire was quite the sight, from both the surface and far above.

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