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Question:
Close-up views of the STS main engines during televised launches show showers of what appear to be sparks shortly before ignition. Do these "sparks" ignite gasses coming from the engines? If not, what is their purpose?



Replies:
Yes, but I don't think the spark showers are the primary means of engine ignition. As nearly as I can tell from the following NASA web pages

http://shuttle.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-74/shutref/sts-mps.html

they are a backup safety device in case the engines own spark igniters and *their* backups fail. I'd guess the main purpose of the spark showers is to lower the risk of an explosion by immediately igniting any errant flammable that might otherwise build up to an explosive concentration.

Tim Mooney



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