Saturn rocket launching
NASA has announced it should have a new rocket by 2016, and it will be similar to the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo program. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Many people have lamented that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will not have an in-house space vehicle when the Space Shuttle Program ends this year. However, NASA won’t have to do without for too much longer; a new rocket will debut in 2016.

Space agency to make new ships that use old tricks

NASA is facing the grim prospect that when the Space Shuttle Atlantis returns from its upcoming mission to the International Space Station, the government agency that put man on the moon in 1969 will lack a launch vehicle of its own. NASA astronauts will have to get to space on Soyuz launches from Russia or use a vehicle from a private contractor, or “space taxi.” However, that arrangement may not last more than a few years because NASA already has an idea of what its next launch vehicle is going to look like, according to MSNBC, and the new NASA rocket is projected to be in service by 2016. The new vehicle doesn’t have a name yet but is being referred to as the Space Launch System. The SLS will be using similar technology to the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo program.

Director settles on established technology

Charlie Bolden, current director of NASA, decided the agency should stick with what is proven to work for the next NASA vehicle. This new rocket, classified as a “heavy-lift launcher” would blend Apollo-era and Space Shuttle-era rocket technology, according to The new vehicle is projected to be a large two-stage rocket, similar to the Apollo rocket, with two solid-fuel rocket boosters similar to the two solid rocket boosters used to launch the space shuttle. Essentially, this new vehicle will be a continuation of the Constellation program, which was canceled by the Obama administration. The SLS will also incorporate the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the module that would carry and house astronauts. The MPCV is not dissimilar from the Apollo spacecraft, though it is far larger. The MPCV is also a continuation of the Orion spacecraft, the crew capsule that was to be part of the Constellation program.

Shuttle program ending

The Space Shuttle program has one flight left. The Space Shuttle Atlantis will launch July 8 and travel to the International Space Station. Upon the return of the Atlantis, the shuttle will be decommissioned. The first manned flight of the new SLS won’t take place for a few years, but engineers will only have to retool existing technologies rather than invent something completely new as they did with the Space Shuttle program. The rocket will be practically the same as the Ares V that was to be used in the Constellation program, and ATK Aerospace Systems, the company that makes the solid rocket boosters for the shuttle, was already working on enhanced versions for Constellation. However, according to, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, a NASA proponent, wants to see a lot of private competition for rocket designs before the program goes forward.





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