NASA's New Moon Rocket: How It Works
NASA plans to launch its massive new SLS rocket later this year, taking its Orion crew vehicle around the moon and back.
WASHINGTON — NASA plans to launch its massive new SLS rocket and Orion crew vehicle toward the moon later this year.
The unmanned mission would test the system and pave the way for a manned mission to the moon in 2023.
SLS is short for Space Launch System and, because the moon is a thousand times farther away from Earth than the International Space Station, it needs to be much, much bigger than other rockets.
Reuters reports that NASA plans to launch its massive new SLS rocket for an unmanned test mission around the moon later this year.
The first version of the SLS will tower 23 storeys above the launch pad.
Its core stage houses two large storage tanks, one for liquid hydrogen, and another for the liquid oxygen that makes the hydrogen burn.
These liquids are fed into the engine chambers and ignited with a spark, where the chemical reaction produces vast amounts of energy and steam.
The core stage has four RS-25 engines, the same ones that powered the space shuttle.
The steam exits the engine nozzles at high speed, generating enough thrust to push the giant into space.
Two solid rocket boosters give the rocket extra power to escape gravity's clutches. These twin boosters stand more than 17 storeys tall and burn six tonnes of solid propellant each second.
They provide 75 percent of total thrust during the first two minutes of flight.
Once in orbit, the crew capsule will detach from the SLS and use its space engine to get all the way to the moon.
The SLS would be the most powerful rocket ever when it powers into space this year, generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust during launch, 15 percent more than the Saturn Five rocket that took the first humans to the moon in 1969.
However, the Super Heavy rocket that SpaceX is building for its Starship spaceship would almost double that, producing as much as 16 million pounds of thrust.
SpaceX has said it plans to test launch its Starship on top of its Super Heavy rocket before the end of July.
It will be interesting to see which system launches first, without blowing up.
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