Despite the loss of the Space Shuttle Program and other cuts within the space exploration sector, NASA has annouced that it is working on a new development to explore deep space further. A new rocket under development at NASA--named the Space Launch System (SLS)--is designed to be affordable, safe, and also sustainable.
The SLS rocket will carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, equipment, important cargo and other things important to experiments beyond the Earth's orbit. It can also be used as a backup to transport partners to the Internation Space Station. The main design makes use of investments in both the Space Shuttle Program and Constellation Program, to make sure it gets the most cutting-edge technology that NASA's got.
In addition, the heavy-lift launch vehicle will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, with solid rocket boosters for the initial development flights.
The main reason the SLS will be able to go further into deep space is due to its lift capacity--the new rocket will be able to lift up to 130 metric tons, which is enough to lift up 75 SUVs, accoridng to NASA. Most of NASA's missions don't need to haul quite that much, but that capacity, along with NASA's ability to adjust which booster combinations are used during launch, could make going further into space siginificantly more affordable.
So, a cheaper, sustainable shuttle with a higher lift capacity, meaning better launches and bigger chances of exploration. Awesome right? On the down side, the first developmental flight or mission isn't planned until 2017, and the SLS isn't even finished yet (the above image is a concept drawing). Still, anything which can make traveling beyond Earth's orbit actually doable is a great step forward.
Check out NASA's announcement page to see videos of the SLS concept and a detailed explanation from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
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