See how NASA’s new mega rocket on the moon compares to past and future astronaut launch systems

A bar chart comparing the heights of different missiles, using illustrations of the missiles instead of bars

Marianne Ayala/Insider

NASA built a new mega rocket for the next lunar astronaut era and launched for the first time on Wednesday.

The Space Launch System (SLS) has been around for 17 years and is estimated to be $50 billion in the making. It is designed to fly astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, when astronauts performed the last moonwalk of the Apollo era.

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion capsule on top, slowly makes its way down the track at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022.

The Space Launch System (SLS) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022.NASA/Kim Shiflett

Now NASA is launching a new program called Artemis to build a space station in lunar orbit and establish a permanent human presence on the surface of the moon’s south pole. Ultimately, the agency wants to mine resources there to send astronauts to Mars.

This first mission, called Artemis I, is a test flight without astronauts. The rocket soared through the Florida skies early Wednesday, propelling its Orion spaceship into a path around the moon.

If that goes well and the capsule splashes safely into the ocean on December 11, NASA wants to land astronauts on the lunar surface again in 2025.

NASA needs a powerful rocket to carry out such a long-range mission. The current iteration of SLS, called Block 1, stands taller than the Statue of Liberty at 322 feet, about 30 stories.

To understand how big that is and how much power it takes to fly to the moon, let’s compare it to other rockets that astronauts fly.

SLS is huge, but small for a lunar rocket

Let’s start small. The rocket that launched Jeff Bezos to the edge of space in July 2021, called New Shepard, is about the height of a five-story building. It doesn’t have enough engines or large amounts of fuel to push itself into Earth’s orbit.

Jeff Bezos inspects the new blue origin Shepard missile booster

Blue origin

Instead, New Shepard shaves the edge of the atmosphere in the three minutes between when it stops climbing and when it begins to fall. It then descends back to Earth, for a total flight time of 11 minutes. That’s why it’s called a suborbital rocket.

new shepard reusable rocket launch 2016 blue origin

Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket will launch into space in 2016.Blue origin

Then there are orbital rockets, such as Russia’s Soyuz and SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which generate enough thrust to push starships full of people and cargo into orbit, where they can dock at the International Space Station.

Soyuz rocket lying on its side on top of wheeled vehicles with people in safety helmets nearby

A Soyuz rocket arrives at the launch pad of the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, September 28, 2009.NASA/Bill Ingalls

Clocking in at 150 to 250 feet, these workhorses are probably what you picture when you think of a standard rocket.

People look up at a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

People look up at a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Oct. 7, 2012.NASA

Lunar rockets like the Saturn V, which powered the Apollo program, are about 100 feet higher. They need the extra thrust to push their starships along Earth’s orbit toward the moon.

saturn v 5 moon rocket apollo missions nasa 6864722_large

A Saturn V rocket launches an Apollo mission into space.NASA

SLS installed white rocket boosters on the sides of the core stage, which burn solid fuel for additional firepower.

This close-up shows the SLS rocket for Artemis I in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 20, 2021.

SLS at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 20, 2021.NASA/Frank Michaux

At present, SLS is smaller than its past and future lunar-grade counterparts. But future iterations of the rocket are expected to tower 365 feet.

two people stand on a platform halfway through a giant rocket

Technicians stack up the SLS core stage at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 12, 2021.NASA/Cory Huston

If Artemis I goes well, the next SLS mission will send an Orion starship around the moon with astronauts on board. The next mission, according to NASA’s plan, will see Orion docking with a SpaceX starship in lunar orbit. Two astronauts will board the new ship and Starship will land them on the south pole of the moon.

elon musk tiny for towering spaceship super heavy rocket skit

Elon Musk stands in front of a Starship prototype atop a Super Heavy booster prototype in Boca Chica, Texas, on Feb. 10, 2022.SpaceX

Starship and its Super Heavy booster are still under development and testing at SpaceX facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. It’s unclear when they will first launch into orbit — a critical test flight before the rocket can fly humans or land on the moon.

black spaceship rocket stacked on top of silver super heavy boost on flat texas plain against blue skies

SpaceX’s Starship stacked atop its Super Heavy booster at the company’s facility near Boca Chica, Texas on Feb. 10, 2022.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Starship-Super Heavy will be the largest rocket ever built.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on September 24, 2022.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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