Good news! The Space Launch System meant to eventually power a mission to Mars, has just passed its preliminary design review, a milestone that opens the door to building the rocket, in time for launch in 2017. What was the review looking to evaluate? Firstly, to make sure that the project timeline and costs are feasible, and that the core can successfully integrate with other parts of the rocket, like the boosters and main engines — you know, the exciting aspects of rockets.
Now, NASA says it will begin building initial versions of the parts, hoping to have a final design by the time another review comes up in 2014. “We are running ahead of schedule,” says Program Manager Todd May, “and will leverage that schedule margin to ensure a safe and affordable rocket for our first flight in 2017.” While this particular SLS rocket in in development, Orion, a capsule that’s meant to take astronauts to Mars sometime in the future, with testing planned for 2014 and the first manned flight in 2021.
Also, it is worth noting that NASA is not receiving much from the US government, so relying on public-private partnerships recently has been the norm, but in light of that, it’s managing the SLS program, contracting with Boeing (and others) to make these engineering concepts a reality.