Cape Canaveral, FL – NASA’s new moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), put on a breathtaking display of cloud formations during its recent launch. The rocket’s four main engines, which are powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, produced towering plumes of steam that lingered in the air long after the spacecraft had disappeared into space.
According to Nate Perkins, an engineer at Aerojet Rocketdyne, which built the rocket’s propulsion system, the clouds are not made up of smoke, but rather water vapor created by the chemical reaction between the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. “It’s just water vapor, the same thing that happens when you combine hydrogen and oxygen in science class,” Perkins explained.
The SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of carrying eight Boeing 747s into the air. Its four main engines consume 700,000 gallons of super-cold propellant, making them incredibly efficient. Liquid hydrogen has been NASA’s fuel of choice for decades due to its low molecular weight, which makes it ideal for space travel.
When the rocket is fueled, the liquid oxygen and hydrogen are kept separate until the last moment, when they are mixed together, causing a controlled explosion that propels the spacecraft forward. This explosion creates a tremendous amount of heat, which is dissipated through a water spray system at the launch pad. The water vapor created by this process mixes with other gases, such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, and nitrogen, producing a white vapor that resembles fog.
The solid rocket boosters, which are also used in the launch, produce additional water vapor, as well as small amounts of other gases. However, the majority of the plume seen during the launch is composed of water vapor from the main engines.
Interestingly, the intense heat generated by the launch can create its own weather patterns, including localized rain and mist. This phenomenon is known as “rocket rain.”
Overall, the cloud formations created by the SLS launch are a fascinating example of the cutting-edge technology and engineering that goes into space exploration.