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

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Image: NASA/SSC
A 550-second full-duration test of the J-2X carried out on February 27, 2013, which will provide engineers with important information about the engine’s combustion stability.

The 143-ton (130-metric ton) configuration will stand a massive 384 feet (117 meters) tall and weigh 6.5 million pounds (2.9 million kilograms). Described by NASA as the most “powerful launch vehicle in history,” it will be capable of carrying payloads of 286,000 pounds (129,727 kilograms), with 9.2 million pounds (4.17 million kilograms) of thrust. In order for it to travel into deep space, this configuration will be fitted with an upper stage powered by a trio of J-2X engines, which recently underwent a barrage of tests at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. This more powerful configuration will not be launched until sometime after 2030.

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Image: NASA/SSC
The J-2X rocket engine being tested here on February 27, 2013 is the first human-rated liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen engine developed in the US for 40 years.

The core stage of the SLS will be more than 200 feet (61 meters) high. It will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which is the fuel used to power the SLS’s RS-25 propulsion engines. These engines have been used to successfully launch 135 space shuttle missions in the past but will be made even more powerful for the updated system.

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