Space Launch System: NASA's New Rocket Design

NASA unveiled plans  for a behemoth rocket that would serve as the backbone of its human spaceflight program for decades.
Illustration of the design

The finished rocket would be the most powerful ever to rise from the gravitational bonds of Earth.

“We’re investing in technologies to live and work in space, and it sets the stage for visiting asteroids and Mars,” says the NASA administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr.

To speed development and control costs, the design is based on pieces from the just-retired shuttles and the canceled Constellation program. The first stage is an elongated shuttle fuel tank, and it would use the same rocket engines as the shuttles. For the initial test flights, two solid rocket boosters — stretched versions of what flew on the shuttles — would provide additional thrust.

NASA had hoped to build an even larger rocket that would take astronauts back to the moon and set up an outpost there. That would be enough to finish a rocket capable of lifting 70 metric tons into orbit; the largest unmanned rockets currently available can lift about one-third that much. The first unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2017.

The above is an edited version of a report that appeared in New York Times, September 14. For more details see the full version


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