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NASA to Build $174M SLS Upper Stage Engine for Its Most Powerful Rocket

Oct 27, 2016 04:00 AM EDT

NASA's manned Journey to Mars is set to launch in 2030 with initial unmanned spaceflights in 2018. And in order to send humans to Mars, the agency is building the  biggest, most powerful rocket ever, the new Space Launch System (SLS).

As the years progressed, NASA's SLS is slowing taking its shape. One of the main components of the rocket is the upper stage engine that will help the spacecraft explore deep space. NASA's SLS will heavily rely on its upper stage engine called the RL10. 

The spacecraft will begin its mission for an unmanned trip this 2018. For the mission, the Block 1 of the SLS will use one RL10B-2 engine like what the Delta IV used for the "interim cryogenic propulsion stage" (ICPS). Once the rocket moves to a notch higher, it will use a more powerful configuration Block 1B and the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) will be added.

In order to complete an interplanetary trip, a rocket as powerful as NASA's SLS is vital. Deep space travel requires a bigger engine, sturdier material that can withstand the harsh and unexpected forces in outer space.

SpaceX is also building its own powerful rocket to be able to send humans to Mars. Elon Musk boasts that his Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) is capable of exploring Mars and even beyond. Musk even revealed that he may be able to explore the Solar System using the ITS rocket.

But in order to get humans to deep space, NASA's SLS rocket will use four RL10C-3 engines. This innovation will help send the humans to Mars. In order to build the powerful engines, NASA sought the help of Aerojet Rocketdyne in Florida. The company landed the $174 million deal to produce the 10 RLC10C-3 engines for the second and third mission of the rocket. The agreement includes two spare engines as well.

"The RL10 is a very technically mature engine design," Steve Wofford, Space Launch System Liquid Engines manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center Alabama, the command center for SLS said in a statement. "It has been the nation's upper stage workhorse engine for more than 50 years and is second to none in performance and demonstrated reliability. It also leverages existing propulsion technology to provide SLS with a robust engine in a timely manner and avoids costs associated with a new engine development program," Wofford added.

The RL rocket engines were first flown in 1963. Reports say that this type of engine already managed to send a spacecraft to every single planet within the Solar System. This proves that NASA's choice to use RL engines could mean a success for the SLS.

The engine has also evolved and improved through the years. NASA says the RL10C-3 is fit to be its upper stage engine for the journey to Mars and other deep space exploration programs.

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