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NASA okays start of Space Launch System after design review

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NASA and Boeing have inked a key contract that should see agency's Space Launch System take to the skies in 2017.

Under the $US2.8 billion contract, the aerospace giant will be building the core stage of the space giant: the Space Launch System will stand 212 feet (more than 64 metres) tall, and will be powered by a combination of four RS-25 Space Shuttle engines and enlarged solid-fuel boosters adapted from the Space Shuttle launch system.

Boeing's announcement says the SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built. It's also key to NASA's hope to one day fling humans in the direction of Mars.

The build contract comes at the conclusion of the critical design review of the core stage, conducted by NASA and Boeing. This, the company explains, was the last important review prior to the start of construction. That review signed off on the final design of the rocket's cryogenic stages, which will hold liquefied hydrogen and oxygen.

It's only been 53 years since NASA last held a CDR (critical design review) on a deep-space vehicle, Boeing says – that was in 1961, when NASA's original deep-space workhorse, the Saturn V, got its design ticks of approval.

The Boeing core SLS hardware will be put together at the company's NASA Assembly Facility near New Orleans, which Florida Today notes was the source of the Space Shuttle external tanks.

The whole project is budgeted to cost between $US7.7 and $US8.6 billion.

“Boeing has also been tasked to study the Exploration Upper Stage, which will be needed for the 130-metric-ton version of SLS that will further expand mission range and payload capabilities”, NASA states.

The first mission will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft. ®

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