NASA is opting to go big instead of staying at home. The space agency today unveiled its new "Space Launch System," a meaty deep-space rocket that looks something like Saturn V on steroids.
NASA's official statement describes the SLS as "an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide... a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and opening up new discoveries."
Translation: Mars, baby!
"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, kids today can now dream of one day walking on Mars."
Check out this video rendering of what an SLS might look like and read on:
Bolden says the SLS will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and all the corresponding cargo, supplies, and science experiments for destinations beyond Earth's orbit. For all you rocket geeks out there, here's the specs from NASA:
It will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle program for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage. SLS will also use solid rocket boosters for the initial development flights, while follow-on boosters will be competed based on performance requirements and affordability considerations. The SLS will have an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons (mT) and will be evolvable to 130 mT.
NASA seems abundantly aware of how spending billions on a new rocket amid tough economic times might play politically. Every statement out of the agency is prefaced with some tidbit about job creation or fiscal responsibility.
"NASA has been making steady progress toward realizing the president's goal of deep space exploration, while doing so in a more affordable way," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "We have been driving down the costs on the Space Launch System and Orion contracts by adopting new ways of doing business and project hundreds of millions of dollars of savings each year."
NASA says SLS' first mission is targeted for the end of 2017.