Thursday, May 29, 2014

NASA's New Mega-Rocket (SLS), Orion Capsule on Track for Future Test Flights

Artist's rendering of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket being stacked inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

Credit: NASA

A new era of space exploration, supported by a history-making new mega-rocket and a spacecraft designed to deliver humans into deep space, could be on the horizon for NASA.

The space agency is gearing up to build the largest and most powerful rocket in history.

The huge launcher, called the Space Launch System (SLS), will move a new spacecraft dubbed Orion, designed to send up to four astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before.

A short list of destinations includes the moon, nearby asteroids and, eventually, Mars.

Everyone is looking forward to 2021, the year when the first manned launch will occur but before that happens, the rocket and spacecraft will have to pass a number of tests.

Most powerful rocket ever
NASA's SLS rocket might remind some space fans of the mighty Saturn V rocket used to launch Apollo moon landing flights in the 1960s and 1970s; however, the new launcher will be more powerful.

NASA currently envisions the SLS in two configurations: one weighing 77 tons and able to lift more than 154,000 pounds, another weighing 143 tons and able to lift more than 286,000 pounds.

The smaller configuration, which is expected to carry a crew of astronauts, will create 8.4 million pounds of thrust, 10 percent more than the massive Saturn V rocket.

The larger configuration, which will carry cargo, will create 9.2 million pounds of thrust, 20 percent more than a Saturn V.

This version will be as tall as a 38-story building. The SLS will truly be a mountain of a machine.

For its power, the SLS will rely on two solid rocket boosters in addition to the huge, 200-foot-tall (61 meters) core stage, which will carry liquid hydrogen and oxygen to fuel four RS-25 rocket engine.

The RS-25 rocket engine is a workhorse: It powered the space shuttle and "operated with 100-percent mission success during 135 space shuttle missions," according to a NASA statement.

The power produced by the three engines is equal to that from 12 Hoover Dams.

NASA currently has a stockpile of 16 RS-25 rocket engines at the Stennis Space Center, in Mississippi.

The engines themselves had to be modified to put out more power than they did for the space shuttle missions, and therefore still require testing. Those tests will probably occur in mid-July, NASA has said.

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