Aviation Company Boeing has contracted with NASA to build the world’s most powerful rocket, intended eventually to propel astronauts to the moon, Mars, asteroids and the deep space beyond. Boeing and NASA signed a $2.8 million contract this week, tasking the aerospace company with developing two rocket cores as part of the completion of the Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle meant to carry both crew and cargo that will be upgraded over time.
“Our teams have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the SLS ,the largest ever will be built safely, affordably and on time,” promised Virginia Barnes, Boeing’s Space Launch System vice president and program manager. The contract agreement comes after the space agency reviewed and approved Boeing’s SLS core stage designs, a major milestone for the system.
The last time NASA completed a critical review of a deep-space human rocket, the year was 1961 and the space agency was on its way to building the Saturn V, the vehicle that would eventually launch the first men to walk the moon.
In addition, Boeing has been tasked to study the SLS Exploration Upper Stage, which will further expand mission range and payload capabilities. The agreement comes as NASA and the Boeing team complete the Critical Design Review (CDR) on the core stage, the last major review before full production begins.
During the CDR, experts examined and confirmed the final design of the rocket’s cryogenic stages that will hold liquefied hydrogen and oxygen.
This milestone marks NASA’s first CDR on a deep-space human exploration launch vehicle since 1961, when the Saturn V rocket underwent a similar design review as the US sought to land an astronaut on the Moon.
“We are passionate about NASA’s mission to explore deep space. It’s a very personal mission, as well as a national mandate,” said Barnes.
The two SLS rockets will be even more powerful than the Saturn V. The first version, which is set to launch in 2017 carrying an unmanned Orion capsule, will stand 321 feet tall, weigh 5.5 million pounds and be boosted by four hydrogen-fueled engines left over from the now extinct space shuttle program.
The second rocket will be taller and more powerful. Standing 384 feet tall and weighing 6.5 million pounds, the second version will launch a manned mission in 2021 using more powerful J-2X engines and strap-on boosters.
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