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Powerful New Rocket Design Unveiled by NASA

Space Exploration: Planned launch system will allow agency to boost astronauts, cargo beyond Earth’s orbit

by Susan R. Morrissey
September 14, 2011

NASA rolled out the design for its new Space Launch System today. The plans have been much anticipated by Congress and mark the start of NASA’s post-shuttle space exploration era.

“President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that’s exactly what we are doing at NASA,” said Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. “While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.”

The heavy-lift rocket will carry astronauts in an already-in-development capsule called the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The rocket will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel system. In early flights, it will be capable of lifting 70-100 metric tons, with later lift capabilities hitting 130 metric tons, according to NASA.

“Having settled on a new and powerful heavy-lift launch architecture, NASA can now move ahead with building that rocket and the next-generation vehicles and technologies needed for an ambitious program of crewed missions in deep space,” said the President’s science advisor, John P. Holdren, in a statement. “I’m excited about NASA’s new path forward and about its promise for continuing American leadership in human space exploration.”

The design was originally expected by Congress at the beginning of the year, but was delayed as NASA worked through its review of potential designs. That delay has caused several members of Congress—including Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), Chairman of the Science, Space & Technology Committee, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the Science, Space & Technology Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics, and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies—to call out the space agency for its tardiness.

“This decision to proceed with development of the Space Launch System is long overdue,” the trio said in a joint statement. “It is our sincere hope that today’s announcement signals a breakthrough with this President that will help alleviate the uncertainty that has plagued our aerospace industrial base and wreaked havoc on its employees. We will not judge today’s announcement by the Administration’s words, but by their deeds and actions in the coming months and years.”



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