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NASA’s New SLS Rocket

Nasa's new SLS rocket

Nasa reveal plans for the biggest rocket ever made to take man to Mars –  dwarfing the shuttle and the Saturn rockets that took us to the moon

  • Construction of the SLS system has  already begun
  • Rocket will be 384 feet tall and weigh  6.5 million pounds
  • First test flight scheduled for  2017
  • Will be able to carry 130 tonnes into  space
  • Expected to be used to launch far larger  interplanetary probes
  • Could be used as part of Manned Mars  missions

By Mark Prigg

It is set to become the largest rocket ever  built, dwarfing the rockets that took man to the moon and paving the way for  manned missions to Mars.

Nasa today reveal stunning new pictures of  its SLS (Space Launch System), which will eventually be capable of lifting 130  tonnes into orbit.

The rocket will be used to ferry astronauts  to the International Space Station, and to help us explore the outer reaches of  the solar system.

It is even hoped the craft could play a role  in manned missions to Mars, being able to launch ‘stepping stone’ bases into  orbit.

‘The potential use of SLS for science will  further enhance the synergy between scientific exploration and human  exploration,’ said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for  science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

‘SLS has the promise of enabling  transformational science in our exploration of the solar system and  cosmos.’

Currently under construction, NASA’s Space  Launch System will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle.

Designed to enable human exploration missions  to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars, SLS is working  toward a first launch in 2017.

For that first flight test, the rocket will  be able to launch 70 metric tons (77 tons) of payload into low-Earth orbit,  almost three times what the space shuttle could carry.

From there, SLS will be evolved to a  configuration that will be able to carry 130 metric tons (143 tons), more weight  than any rocket ever has been able to carry.

SLS rocket comparison chart

‘While many people think of the Space Launch  System in terms of human exploration, SLS could have a wide application in a lot  of other areas, including space science,” said Steve Creech, assistant program  manager for strategy and partnerships for SLS.

‘For missions to the outer planets, for  example, SLS could make it possible to do things that are currently impossible,  such as sending larger scientific spacecraft with more instruments to far off  destinations with reduced transit times.’

Agency scientific and engineering teams have  been evaluating whether there would be potential benefits from launching deep  space robotic spacecraft, such as the Europa Clipper, a proposed mission to one  of Jupiter’s icy moons, on the SLS rocket, and determined the rocket would  enable the spacecraft to fly direct trajectories to our solar system’s outer  planets, rather than using planetary gravities to gain speed, reducing transit  time compared to current launch vehicles.

SLS rocket break down chart

In the case of the Europa Clipper, for  example, the transit time would be reduced to less than half of what it would be  using other launch vehicles.

‘For as long as people have been launching  rockets into space, mission designers have had to work within certain  limitations – a spacecraft can only be so heavy and it has to fit within a  certain width,” Creech said.

‘Depending on how large you make it, it can  only go so fast, which in some cases limits where you can go.

‘Today, if you want to send a mission to the  outer planets, you have to be able to make it fit within that box. With SLS,  we’re about to make that box much larger.

SLS rocket launch pad

‘With the space shuttle, for example, we were  able to launch missions like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope that were about the  size of a school bus.

‘With SLS, you can design a spacecraft even  larger than the space shuttle that carried Hubble.

‘It’s going to open up an entirely new way of  thinking about how we plan and design planetary science missions.’

‘The Space Launch System could be really  game-changing for space science,” said ACO manager Reggie Alexander.

‘For some missions, it makes it much easier  and quicker to carry them out.

‘A Mars sample return mission, for example,  could be flown using only one rocket instead of three.

‘But for other destinations, SLS lets you do  things we could only dream of before – like collecting samples from the geysers  of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.’


NASA’s New SLS Rocket

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