The most powerful rocket ever built: SLS ambitions and challenges

Space exploration has always been one of the most exciting yet complex and challenging areas due to a huge amount of resources needed to move forward. NASA, despite having highly ambitious plans, has shown their persistent execution, that gave humanity a better understanding about our universe and our place in it as well as technological advancements benefiting human life on Earth.

The most powerful rocket ever built

One of the most interesting projects that NASA has been working on is a Space Launch System (SLS). SLS will be the most powerful rocket used for the deep space missions. The most recent plans include rocket use to get to some distant asteroids as well as go all the way to Mars. Or even further — to the Jupiter’s moon.

“I’m excited about the Europa Clipper mission” — Michelle Tillotson an engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center says. “NASA believes Europa, a moon of Jupiter, has an ocean of water underneath its icy surface. Where there is water, there is usually life. Any sign of life, whether it is a microorganisms or something more advanced, would be a significant discovery”.

Michelle Tillotson, an engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, shows a student new equipment that will be used to test the propellant tanks for the SLS.

One of the biggest challenges for the team that is working in the NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has been evolving the RS-25 engines, originally used for the Space Shuttle’s Main Engines. To reduce the cost and time it takes to build additional engines for future flights, NASA is currently looking at using Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3-D printing, to build critical engine components. “To implement this technology on critical rocket parts for flights carrying humans, we must be confident in this form of manufacturing, which means lots of tests” — says Michelle Tillotson. “Testing is the most exciting part of a development phase because who wouldn’t love to see a hot-fire engine test?”

Future of the space industry

Recently NASA started awarding contracts to major private aerospace companies to launch not only resupply missions to the ISS, but they will also have the responsibility to bring astronauts to the ISS as early as 2017. Right now on the International Space Station, NASA has both international and commercial partners. For now this model will be used to do exploration in deep space.

“I can also see the potential for space tourism in the next 25 years” Michelle Tillotson says. “Of course, this service will only be affordable to the rich and famous at first, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a private company invested in creating a hotel in space”.

Meanwhile, space exploration serves not only science, research, and “rich and famous”. “What we are learning on the ISS right now about how people adapt to the space environment is already benefiting people on earth. You can learn more about how in just the last year, the space station helped do everything from developing new treatments for diseases to monitoring hurricanes from the ISS chief scientist at her blog”.

Contributing to space exploration

NASA has many open source data projects that you can find here. One of a particular interest is a Physical Sciences Research Program with data from all the physical sciences investigations conducted so far. This knowledge base was designed especially so that investigators could see all the information from space investigations on materials and propose new investigations to address critical gaps in knowledge that might improve the performance of materials on Earth and in space or investigate other physical science questions.

For those interested in devoting their careers to space exploration and finding exciting job opportunities, Michelle Tillotson says that a solid education foundation is crucial. “My background is in Civil/Structural Engineering, but I understood that the basic engineering principles are transferable to all disciplines. The only difference between buildings and rockets is that we don’t build launch vehicles with reinforced concrete and steel”.