NASA Is Building The Most Powerful Rocket of All Time

Ever hear the sayings "the best things come in small packages," or "size doesn't matter"? The team at NASA would certainly disagree with both of those statements! The agency's new Space Launch System (SLS) is the biggest and heaviest rocket ever built, and it could power the next era of deep space exploration.

A engine section structural qualification test article for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, is loaded onto the barge Pegasus at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

One Big Boost for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind

In 2011, NASA dropped jaws when it introduced its giant, heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System as the future go-to booster for U.S. missions into deep space. The agency wants to send astronauts into deep space aboard its four-passenger Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The SLS will stand at 403 feet (122 meters) from top to bottom, and will weigh over 6 million pounds when fueled. Armed with five liquid-fueled engines and two solid-fueled boosters, the SLS's ability to produce of 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff will be on par with that of 160,000 Corvette engines. It boasts approximately 10-20% more thrust than the Apollo Mission-era Saturn V, the biggest and most powerful rocket until now.

The top of the SLS will hold the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, carrying it beyond low orbit and past the moon, launching it into deep space before returning to the Earth's surface. With the SLS, NASA has planned for astronauts to visit asteroids in the 2020s. And we could begin the first human exploration of Mars in the 2030s.

The interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) for the first flight of NASA's Space Launch System rocket is on its way by barge to United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Operation Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Liquid oxygen tank being manufactured for weld confidence testing shows how domes are added to make tanks in the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
Dr. Patrick Shea inspects a nearly 4 3/4-foot (1.3 percent scale) model of the second generation of NASA's Space Launch System in a wind tunnel for ascent testing at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.

Built to Adapt

Although its enormous size and engine power gives it an advantage compared to other rockets-in-progress, there are some drawbacks. NASA projects it could only swing one-to-two flights a year and it would cost $1 billion a pop. That means that it could eventually be passed over for smaller crafts that might not be able to carry as much on board, but would be able to fly more frequently at a lower overall cost.

Despite any naysayers, plans to complete the SLS are currently underway. Engineers are making quick progress. Knowing they can't totally anticipate the needs of future missions and crews, they're even designing the rocket to be adaptable for design innovations for years to come. The maiden voyage for the Space Launch System is slated to blast off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2019—which makes the future of space exploration just around the corner.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About NASA

First NASA SLS Will Launch Moon-Bound Orion And Asteroid Scout

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Written by Jamie Ludwig July 1, 2017

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