After a year of occasionally public wrangling with Congress, the Obama Administration on Wednesday unveiled its plan for a new NASA rocket intended to fly astronauts and cargo to Mars and other destinations in deep space.
The core of the so-called Space Launch System (SLS) is an enhanced space shuttle fuel tank, which holds liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the ship’s engines. Initially, it also will use shuttle-derived solid fuel booster rockets developed under the now-canceled Constellation moon program.
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NASA says the decision to use shuttle technology was based on analysis that showed it would cost less and provide more flexibility for planned upgrades. Initially the new launcher would be able to carry between 70 and 100 metric tons to orbit (about three times as much as the now-retired space shuttles). For missions to Mars, the rocket would be upgraded to carry about 130 metric tons.
In all, the United States plans to spend $18 billion on the project through 2017, including $10 billion for the rocket, $6 billion for the Orion capsule to carry crews and $2 billion to upgrade the Kennedy Space Center launch site to accommodate the new booster.
Image: Artist's concept of Space Launch System. Credit: NASA