NASA has approved a rocket designed for deep-space travel

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For the past few years, NASA’s been working on a powerful rocket called the Space Launch System meant for missions to the moon, Mars and other places far from our planet. While the rocket’s not quite ready to take Bruce Willis to an asteroid, it’s at least getting nearer to a launch pad, the agency has just finalized a $2.8 billion deal with Boeing to start building its core stage and developing its avionics system. The deal went through recently after the core stage passed its critical design review, where 11 experts inspected 3,000 of its artifacts. A core stage, by the way, is the middle part of a rocket that makes up most of its body: the one Boeing’s building for the SLS is a 200-foot tower that’ll store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to fuel the engines.

NASA gave the go-ahead to start full production on the most powerful rocket ever. The rocket, known as Space Launch System, is set to blast beyond low-Earth orbit this decade to explore the deep reaches of space, including near-Earth asteroids, the moon and, ultimately, Mars. Boeing Co., prime contractor on the rocket, announced Wednesday that it had completed a critical design review and finalized a $2.8-billion contract with NASA. The last time the space agency made such an assessment of a deep-space rocket was the mighty Saturn V, which took astronauts to the moon. If all goes well, the rocket’s initial test flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla., is expected in 2017. “We’re ready to move forward,” said Frank McCall, Boeing’s Space Launch System deputy program manager. “This program has the potential to be inspiring for generations.” The Space Launch System has been the subject of criticism that its goals and timeline are too vague. It also faces additional funding questions from Congress in the years ahead. “We’re not operating on the budgets of Apollo missions anymore,” McCall said. “But we’re not operating on a shoestring budget either.”

 

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