NASA Reaches Deal With Boeing to Build Deep Space Rockets

Jul 05, 2014 08:21 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Barrel

Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility transfer a 22-foot-tall barrel section of the SLS core stage from the vertical weld center. The barrel section will be used for the liquid hydrogen tank, which will help power the SLS rocket out of Earth’s orbit.

(Photo : NASA/Michoud)

 NASA has completed a $2.8 billion contract with Boeing for development of avionics systems and the 20-story-tall first stage of the agency's planned Space Launch System rocket, according to a report by CBS News.

The large booster is being created to propel astronauts beyond the moon and into deep space.

The powerful NASA Saturn 5 moon rocket, which was the first SLS rocket is scheduled for its maiden flight, carrying an unscrewed Orion capsule, in 2017. The rocket's second flight, which will be the first to carry astronauts, is planned for 2021.

NASA plans on using the more powerful rocket to boost four-person Orion crews on flights to one or more asteroids. Eventually they hope to use it to help put a person on Mars.

One rocket would stand 321 feet tall and be capable of lifting 154,000 pounds to LEO, while the other version would stand 384 feet tall and be capable of lifting 286,000 pounds to LEO, according to CBS News.

"The SLS program team completed the core stage critical design review ahead of schedule and continues to make excellent progress towards delivering the rocket to the launch pad," Todd May, NASA's SLS program manager, said in a statement according to the report. "Our entire prime contractor and government team has been working full-steam on this program since its inception."

A deal was finalized after NASA completed an important design review, or CR, of the SLS core stage. This is the first time since the Saturn V was introduced that a launch vehicle has passed the CDR stage.

The Saturn V was operational from 1966 through 1973, according to the space agency.

The new $2.8 billion contract, signed July 1, extends through 2021.

"Completing the CDR is a huge accomplishment, as this is the first time a stage of a major NASA launch vehicle has passed a critical design review since the 1970s," Tony Lavoie, a senior manager at Marshall, said in NASA's statement. "In just 18 months since the Preliminary Design Review, we are ready to go forward from design to qualification production of flight hardware."

The contract includes approximately $700 million that has already been spent on tooling and other SLS items at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the booster will be built and put together. It will then be transported to the Kennedy Space Center for launch.

Virginia Barnes, SLS vice president and program manager, said the Boeing is devoted "to ensuring that the SLS -- the largest ever -- will be built safely, affordably and on time."

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