NASA's Giant SLS Rocket: A Guide (2023)

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NASA's Giant SLS Rocket: A Guide (1)image Source,NASA

By Pablo Rincon

Science Editor, BBC News website

NASA has developed a giant rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts to the Moon and eventually to Mars. The SLS, which will make its debut in early 2022, is the most powerful launch vehicle built since the 1960s.

NASA plans to put a man and a woman on the lunar surface this decade. This will be the first human landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

For twenty years, astronauts have made routine trips to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

But the moon is almost a thousand times further away than the ISS; To get the astronauts there, you need a monster rocket.

The SLS is the modern equivalent of the Saturn V, the giant launch vehicle built during the Apollo era. Like Saturn, it is divided into segments, or stacked stages. But the rocket also contains space shuttle technology.

(Video) NASA Is Going Back to the Moon 🚀 Here’s How Its Massive Rocket Was Made

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The first version of the SLS will be called Block 1. Over the next few years, it will undergo a series of upgrades that will allow it to carry heavier payloads to destinations outside of low-Earth orbit.

The Block 1 SLS will be 23 stories taller than the launch pad, taller than the Statue of Liberty.

“It's really a huge rocket. It's just impressively big," said John Shannon, vice president and SLS program manager at Boeing, the rocket's prime contractor. He told BBC News in 2019: "When you see the SLS assembled, you haven't seen anything like it since the Saturn V." .

The rocket will launch astronauts.NASA's next-generation crewed vehicle: OrionThis will get you up to the speed needed to exit Low Earth Orbit and continue on to the Moon.

How does the rocket work?

The SLS consists of a giant center stage flanked by two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). At the core are two large storage tanks: one for liquid hydrogen, the fuel, and one for liquid oxygen, an "oxidant" that burns the fuel.

Collectively, they are known as thrusters.

The core stage is based on four RS-25 engines, the same engines that power the spaceplane-like Space Shuttle that was decommissioned in 2011.

image Source,NASA / Michoud / Steve Seipel

When liquid hydrogen and oxygen are introduced into the engine chambers and ignited with a spark, the chemical reaction produces enormous amounts of energy and steam.

Steam is released from the engine's nozzles at a speed of 10,000 mph (16,000 km/h) to create thrust, the force that propels a rocket through the air.

SRBs give the rocket extra power to escape the clutches of gravity. These twin boosters are over 17 stories tall and burn six tons of solid fuel per second. They deliver 75% of the total thrust in the first two minutes of flight.

The most powerful rocket ever created?

If we take thrust as a measure, by 2022 the SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever to fly into space. The Block 1 SLS will generate 8.8 million pounds (39.1 meganewtons) of thrust at launch, 15% more than the Saturn V.

(Video) The SLS is Outdated. Why Does it Exist?

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union built a rocket called the N1 to reach the Moon. The first stage could produce 10.2 million pounds (45.4 meganewtons) of thrust. But all four test flights failed.

A future version of the SLS, called the Block 2 Cargo, should come close to the level of oomph of the N1. Buta vehicle called Starship, developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX company, is said to outperform both, generating up to 15 million pounds (66.7 meganewtons) of thrust. Starship is currently in development, but there is no set date for its first orbital flight.

The SLS in figures

image Source,NASA

  • The rocket will stop98 meters (322 ft)long in its native or block 1 configuration
  • Block 1 SLS can transmit more than27 tons (59,500 ponds)to lunar orbits: the equivalent of 11 large sport utility vehicles (SUVs)
  • A future version of the SLS called Block 2 Cargo will be launched46 tons (101,400 ponds)to the moon. There are 18 large SUVs.
  • The SLS will produce8.8 million pounds (39.1 meganewtons)push in your Block 1 setup
  • fourRS-25 engines are located at the base of the center stage; They are the same ones that were used in the space shuttle.

How shuttle technology was reused

The SLS core stage is based on the space shuttle's foam-covered outer tank. This tank powered three RS-25 engines at the rear of the orbiting shuttle. Solid rocket boosters play virtually the same role in both vehicles.

But the SLS is an entirely different beast. Several components and structures derived from the Shuttle underwent significant design changes due to the different loads imposed on them by the SLS.

As an example of these different voltages, the space shuttle's RS-25 motors were angled upward, away from the solid rocket propellants. Placing them next to the SRBs will expose them to more vibrations. As a result, each system in the complex area of ​​SLS engines had to be rigorously tested to ensure that it could withstand vibration.

Why the SLS was built

In February 2010The Obama administration canceled Constellation– George W. Bush's turbulent plan to return to the moon in 2020. The news was a devastating blow to workers in five southern states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), whereNASA's manned space program funded tens of thousands of jobs.

(Video) Micro NASA SLS Set Building Guide

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill were outraged. At the time, Richard Shelby, a Republican senator from Alabama,sayingCongress would not "sit back and watch the ruthless rejection of sound principles, a proven track record, a firm path to success, and the destruction of our manned space program."

As a compromise, state lawmakers have been pushing for a single super-heavy rocket to replace the Constellation launchers that the White House cancelled.

image Source,NASA

The SLS design was unveiled in 2011.. Once work began, delays and inflated munitions costs drew criticism that NASA should rely on rockets operated by commercial suppliers.

But without significant modifications, none of the existing launch vehicles have enough power to send Orion, astronauts, and large payloads to the moon in a single flight, as the SLS would have.

An estimated $18 billion has been spent on SLS since the beginning of the last decade.

But now the development phase of the rocket is over.Flight certification tests have been completed., the first SLS is nowat the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ready for its first release.

John Shannon, who has been responsible for SLS at Boeing since 2015, explains: "I suspect that once SLS is available nationwide, there won't be a need for such a heavy-duty vehicle for years to come. It's really a unique solution." -Opportunity of life”.

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(Video) No Small Steps: The Brains of NASA’s SLS Rocket


Why are SLS boosters not reusable? ›

SLS uses its power to maximize the cargo the rocket can send to the Moon. That's why SLS does not carry extra fuel or propulsion systems necessary to return any stages to Earth for reuse. The solid rocket boosters separate two minutes into the flight, and the core stage falls away around eight minutes after launch.

How fast will the Artemis I SLS rocket need to accelerate to escape Earth's gravity? ›

Space Launch System (SLS)

The rocket will provide the power to help Orion reach a speed of 22,600 mph, to escape the pull of Earth's gravity send the spacecraft to the Moon.

Is the SLS the most powerful rocket? ›

On Nov. 16, 2022, SLS launched from NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39B in Florida, making history as the most powerful rocket NASA has ever launched.

Is SLS more powerful than Starship? ›

Engineers are analyzing data. Starship is a reusable rocket larger and far more powerful than NASA's Artemis Special Launch System and one that could take humans to the moon and Mars. The launch, with no one aboard, was the second attempt to fly the combined Starship spacecraft and its 33-engine Super Heavy booster.

Will SLS boosters be recovered? ›

Like the RS-25 engines, the SLS boosters will not be recovered after they separate from the core stage at 2 minutes and 12 seconds into flight. Falling from about 142,000 feet (43.3 km), the boosters will splashdown and be allowed to sink into the Atlantic Ocean roughly five and a half minutes after their launch.

Will SLS SRBs be recovered? ›

Almost all of the STS boosters were recovered and reused, however NASA doesn't plan to try and recover any of the new solid rocket boosters for SLS.

Is Artemis the most powerful rocket ever built? ›

Orion launched atop the most powerful rocket ever built, with 8.8 million pounds of thrust, 1.3 million greater than the Saturn V behemoths of the Apollo era. Artemis will fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans, Nasa says.

Why is Artemis flying so slow? ›

As the spacecraft nears the apogee of the orbit (the farthest point from Earth) it will slow down, because Earth's gravity is pulling the spacecraft back to Earth. This is similar to throwing a stone upwards, it will decelerate the closer it gets to the highest point, only to regain speed as it falls back to Earth.

Can a rocket accelerate forever in space? ›

No. Infinite acceleration would require infinite energy. An object in outer space won't feel any aerodynamic drag, but still has inertia and takes the same amount of force to accelerate as it would anywhere else.

What happens to SLS boosters after launch? ›

At an altitude of approximately 45 km (24 nautical miles), the boosters separate from the orbiter/external tank, descend on parachutes, and land in the Atlantic Ocean (+ View Video: SRB Processing). They are recovered by ships, returned to land, and refurbished for reuse.

What happens to the SLS boosters? ›

Like the RS-25 engines, the SLS boosters will not be recovered after they separate from the core stage at 2 minutes and 12 seconds into flight. Falling from about 142,000 feet (43.3 km), the boosters will splash down and be allowed to sink into the Atlantic Ocean roughly five and a half minutes after their launch.

Is the SLS not reusable? ›

In reading about SLS, I learned that the reason they won't reuse their rocket is that the weight of the parachutes to enable recovery is too much of a sacrifice. More like, it's impossible to build parachutes big enough to slow it down enough to survive impact.

Will the Artemis boosters be reused? ›

Unlike the shuttle program, though, the SLS rockets won't be reused. The core stage and its engines will instead be dropped in the Atlantic when its fuel is gone – Apollo-style – which means these four old shuttle engines will go out in a literal blaze of glory.


1. NASA's new moon rocket: how it works
(News Direct)
2. I'm Going to MARS! How NASA BUILDS ROCKETS for Space Exploration (SLS)
(Jared Polin)
3. What's The Big Deal About Artemis - NASA's New Massive Moon Rocket
(Scott Manley)
4. How To Build Realistic NASA's SLS Rocket in Spaceflight Simulator
5. NASA’s New Moon Rocket: How It Works
(TomoNews US)
6. NASA’s Giant Leaps, Past and Future: Saluting Apollo Heroes and Looking Forward to Artemis Missions


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