Photographing and filming a rocket test is tricky work. The plumes of the rocket engine are so bright that the camera's exposure settings have to be lowered to capture the flame. Reducing the exposure, however, darkens the rest of the image, and that means the image isn't particularly useful when it comes to observing how other parts of the engine respond to the test. Often, the image ends up looking something like this:

A rocket engine test without the HiDyRS-X camera A typical photograph of test firing of the Space Launch System rocket engine. (Photo: NASA)

Enter the High Dynamic Range Stereo X (HiDyRS-X), a camera developed by members of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate's Early Career Initiative, a program in which young engineers learn alongside industry leaders. The HiDyRS-X captures multiple exposures in slow motion at once and then combines the exposures together to create an image that perfectly exposes all elements in the shot.

The video above demonstrates the HiDyRS-X's abilities. Filming a test of the Space Launch System's booster, finer details of the rocket are clearly shown in the HiDyRS-X footage compared to the photo of the same engine and test provided above. Howard Conyers, who developed the HiDyRS-X, was surprised by the level of detail the camera captured.

"I was amazed to see the ground support mirror bracket tumbling and the vortices shedding in the plume," Conyers explained after the test.

"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."

And this is only the first prototype. Conyers and his team are developing a second prototype that may make even more unobservable aspects of rocket tests observable.

NASA camera shows rocket flames in a whole new light
The HiDyRS-X changes how we see rockets firing by using multiple, slow motion video exposures at once.