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NASA announces new heavy-lift launch system, most powerful since the Saturn V

September 14, 2011

Artist's concept of NASA's new SLS

Today NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and members of Congress announced an agreement to build the most powerful rocket in US history. The launch system (or SLS for space launch system) is intended to take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars. The SLS is a derivative of the space shuttle in that it uses 5 space shuttle engines and a fuel tank based on the design of the shuttle’s external fuel tank. There will also be two solid rocket boosters on either side of the main stack. The key difference is that the multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV), which is already under construction, will sit atop the entire stack, and will have an escape rocket system that will enable the crew to safely escape almost any type of failure or explosion at any stage during ascent. In many ways this new system is a hybrid of the Apollo-era Saturn V system and the space shuttle. For more info check out the official story on NASA’s website.

This is an exciting announcement, and it’s good to know that many aspects of this new SLS are based on or directly utilize existing technology. This means that the overall cost should be significantly lower than if we’d tried to build something entirely new. I’m glad there was bipartisan agreement that led to this decision being made relatively quickly. The target date for the initial launch of this new SLS is 2017. That seems realistic and I certainly hope it is. Humanity is long overdue to reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore deep space.

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