The Most Powerful Rocket in History: NASA’s New Launch System for Deep Space Exploration

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Image: NASA/SSC
This 35-second test of the J-2X engine was carried out in February 2013, with the aim of providing vital performance data.

In the past, heavy payloads were launched using Saturn rocket boosters. These incredible rockets sent men to the Moon and put the Skylab space station into orbit. In fact, engineers recently restored and studied F1 Saturn rocket parts to help develop the SLS. However, the new system, while using information gleaned from the past, will be superior.


Image: NASA/SSC
On December 5, 2012, testing of the J-2X Powerpack generated a massive burst of flame.

The Saturn rockets are not the only old technology studied by engineers working on the SLS. Tooling and manufacturing methods and tried and tested hardware from exploration programs like the Space Shuttle were all used to help develop the new launch system. Designed for flexibility, the SLS will utilize various launch configurations and be able to evolve and adapt, meeting a range of mission and cargo requirements.

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Image: NASA/SSC
A record-breaking June 8, 2012 test to gauge the performance and hardware life of the J-2X engine turbopumps

When it’s completed, the SLS will be capable of lifting over 154,000 pounds (69,853 kilograms) in its initial 77-ton (70-metric ton) configuration, which will stand 321 feet (98 meters) tall and weigh 5.5 million pounds (almost 2.5 million kilograms). The 143-ton (130-metric ton) configuration will lift over 286,000 pounds (129,727 kilograms), providing 20 percent more thrust than the previously used Saturn V rockets.

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