by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 14, 2011
NASA unveiled its plans Wednesday for a massive new launcher capable of powering manned space flights well beyond low-Earth orbit and ultimately to Mars.
NASA chief Charles Bolden made the announcement of the design for the new Space Launch System, which the space agency touted as the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V rocket put US astronauts on the moon.
"The next chapter of America's space exploration story is being written today," said Bolden.
"President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA."
The launcher, which will take until 2017 to build and cost an estimated $35 billion, will fill a gap in US manned flight program created by the retirement of the last US space shuttle in July after 30 years of service.
But NASA said it will be far more powerful, capable of carrying much larger payloads beyond low-Earth orbit deep into space, and eventually to Mars.
Still, the so-called "Space Launch System" borrows heavily from the space shuttle, said John Logsdon, the former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
For instance, the first stage of the new launcher will use the shuttle's cryogenic engine fueled with a mix of hydrogen and oxygen kept at very low temperatures, he told AFP.
The system will be topped with a capsule initially capable of carrying into space payloads of 70 to 100 metric tonnes, and expanded over time to carry up to 130 metric tonnes.
"The booster will be America's most powerful since the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon and will launch humans to places no one has gone before," NASA said in a statement.
"The SLS will carry human crews beyond low-Earth orbit in a capsule named the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle," NASA said.
The first test launch is scheduled for 2017 followed by manned flights in 2021.
NASA could use it for a mission to an asteroid in 2025. NASA has indicated that it expects to send astronauts around Mars before eventually landing on the red planet, but not before 2030.
NASA's decision on the SLS design follows many months of deliberations while the space agency weighed different approaches that would ensure it could be adapted to changing missions and take advantage of new technologies that emerge in the future.
The project comes at a time when the United States is facing deep budget cuts that is likely to impinge on the costly space program, which is vital to the economies of a number of US states.
Bolden said the program will "create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued US leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world."
Champions of the space program in the US Congress welcomed the decision, noting that NASA has been losing jobs and had appeared to directionless after the end of the space shuttle program.
"This is perhaps the biggest thing for space exploration in decades," said Senator Bill Nelson, a former astronaut who represents Florida, a big beneficiary of NASA dollars.
Logsdon said however the vision for deep space exploration remains murky.
"Mars is a long way," he said, adding that getting there will take NASA "beyond the 2030s."
"The international community would prefer going back to the moon," he said. "This is possible if we have an integrated international plan with enough money to pay for this rocket and this spacecraft and pay for a landing vehicle."
Launch Pad at Space-Travel.com
Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.
First Galileo satellite touches down in French Guiana
Paris (ESA) Sep 13, 2011
The first Galileo navigation satellite has arrived in Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, ready to begin preparations for launch on 20 October. Packed within its protective, air-conditioned container, the satellite landed at Cayenne Rochambeau Airport aboard an Antonov aircraft at 06:45 local time on Wednesday 7 September, having departed from Thales Alenia Space Italy's Rome facility, wh ... read more
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2011 - Space Media Network. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|