Nasa has completed the critical design review of a rocket intended to take mankind to Mars and beyond and is now ready to start building the craft.
Designed to exceed the capabilities of the Moon exploration era Saturn V, the Space Launch System (SLS) is set to become the most powerful rocket ever built. Nasa hasn’t built such a powerful rocket in 40 years and the critical design review has now cleared the way for final fabrication, testing and demonstration. The next major milestone, the design certification, is planned for 2017. Nasa plans to fly the rocket in 2018.
“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS, we’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of Nasa’s Exploration Systems Development Division. “There have been challenges, and there will be more ahead, but this review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space.”
A team of Nasa private industry experts has assessed all individual elements of the SLS including the more than 60m tall core stage, powered by four RS-25 liquid hydrogen – liquid oxygen engines, and boosters.
“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager. “Our team has worked extremely hard, and we are moving forward with building this rocket. We are qualifying hardware, building structural test articles, and making real progress.”
The review focused on the first of three planned SLS configurations that will be capable to lift a 77-tonne payload. The so called Block I configuration will use twin boosters and four RS-25 engines.
Nasa plans two further upgrades, Block 1B with a more powerful exploration upper stage and a lift capability of 115 tonnes and Block 2 with an extra pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide a 143-tonne lift capability.