Say hello to NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) — it's about to become the largest, most powerful space rocket we've ever built.
The Agency announced a design for the rocket earlier today, saying it will be a "safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and opening up new discoveries from the unique vantage point of space." Buckle up, everybody — we're going to Mars.
The announcement comes just days after NASA initiated construction of the first space-bound version of its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), the crew capsule designed to carry astronauts deeper into space than they've ever been.
The SLS and Orion MPCV are both part of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act signed last October by U.S. President Barack Obama, who has charged the US Space Agency with putting humanity on Mars by the 2030's. And the SLS is the heavy-lift rocket designed to get us there.
According to NASA, the SLS rocket will "incorporate technological investments" and "proven hardware" from previous space exploration programs. But what does that mean?
Remember the shuttles we shelved just a few months ago? Well various parts of the new shuttle will be reminiscent of those — only bigger and badder. Numerous components on the SLS, ranging from its fuel tanks to its rocket boosters, will be based on up-scaled and upgraded versions of technologies featured on retired NASA tech.
NASA hopes that this "evolvable development approach" will allow for quick but cost-effective progress over the next few years, allowing them to meet the 2017 deadline that they've set for the rocket's first, unmanned test flight. NASA says the SLS will have an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons, but that this capacity will be "evolvable" to an unprecidented 130 metric tons.