NASA: Deep-space rocket design ready for production

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On July 4th while most of us are thinking about fireworks, NASA is pondering a much bigger rocket.

The agency announced this week that a new vehicle for deep-space exploration is ready for production.

It’s called the Space Launch System or SLS.

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And some of it will be built in Southern California. A Boeing facility in Huntington Beach and a Rocketdyne plant in Canoga Park will each assemble key parts of the new vehicle in hopes of having a prototype ready for a test flight in 2017.

The SLS will open up a new frontier of opportunities for NASA, says Scott Pace with the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Related: NASA launches Mars 'flying saucer' on Earth; splashes down after test

"It’s important because for doing heavy levels of exploration like returning to the moon even or going on to Mars, you need to launch a lot of mass into space," Pace said.

That mass could be modules for a new space lab or equipment to help astronauts land on an asteroid.

That’s where a big rocket comes in handy, Pace said.

"It’s easier to haul things in a big truck than it is with a bunch of smaller trucks, and the SLS is a very, very large truck."

But he said the SLS is not ideal for smaller tasks like ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

He says the Obama Administration is opening the door for private companies, like Hawthorne-based Space X, to do that job.

In fact, Space X CEO Elon Musk unveiled a vehicle designed to do just that earlier this year.

In the meantime, NASA will go forward with production plans for its SLS rocket with a goal of flying a manned mission in 2021.


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