- NASA assembled its first Space Launch System rocket on Friday.
- The rocket is the first of NASA’s new generation of heavy launchers.
- The assembly is an important step in NASA’s plan to put humans back on the moon by 2024.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
NASA has released new photos of its newly-assembled Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, its most powerful launch vehicle built since the 1960s.
The rocket was assembled on Friday at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The launcher will be the first SLS rocket, a new type of rocket designed to bring astronauts to the moon — and eventually to Mars, the BBC reported.
NASA aims to launch the rocket by November 2021, one of a series of missions aimed to send humans back to the moon for the first time since 1972.
This photo shows the 212-foot core module of the rocket, which was placed in between the smaller booster rockets:
—NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) June 12, 2021
And this timelapse shows the 188,000-pound core stage being lifted after assembly, ready to be added to the boosters:
—NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) June 11, 2021
The first version of the SLS rocket is called Block 1. Once assembled, the rocket would weigh about 8.8 million pounds, and stand 363 feet tall. That’s bigger than the Statue of Liberty, which is 305 feet tall with its pedestal.
The powerful launcher is able to carry almost 60,000 pounds to orbit. That’s enough to carry the Orion space capsule, which will be used to bring astronauts to space in future missions.
Before it is fully assembled, the core module needs to be topped by an adapter, and the space capsule needs to be lowered onto the rocket to top it off.
The rocket should carry humans to the moon by 2024
NASA aims to launch the rocket on its first flight as early as October 2021. The rocket’s maiden flight is the first of three missions NASA has planned to bring humans back to the moon.
If the missions succeed, the first man in over 50 years, and the first-ever woman, could return to the Earth’s satellite by 2024.
This first mission will be unmanned because it aims to test the rocket’s ability to bring the capsule to the moon and back, as Insider previously reported.
The core module is flanked by two powerful rocket boosters
The twin boosters on either side of the rocket’s core module — pictured below before the core module was lowered between them — can produce 3.6 million pounds of thrust in just two minutes to lift the rocket into space.
The core stage itself has powerful engines, producing about 2 million pounds of thrust.
After a failed first attempt, the core modules’ engines were successfully fired for around eight minutes on May 18, clearing the way for the rocket’s assembly.
The engines will provide the power to make the Orion space capsule travel at a speed of 24,500 miles per hour, the speed needed to send it to the moon.
NASA plans to use SLS launchers to go to Mars
SLS rockets are NASA’s modern equivalent to the Saturn V launchers, which were used in the Apollo missions.
Saturn V launchers have not been of as much use in the past 20 years, during which astronauts have been going to the International Space Station, the BBC reported. But the moon is about 1,000 times farther from Earth, so a more powerful launcher is needed.
NASA has big ambitions for the SLS rocket. It is designed to be flexible and adaptable, and could be used to send missions to Mars, Saturn, or Jupiter.
The next version of the rocket, Block 2, will be designed to carry more than 101,400 pounds of payload.
It will be the “workhorse vehicle” for sending cargo to the Moon, Mars, and other deep-space destinations, according to NASA.