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The SLS Needs the World's Largest Welder

Sep 13, 2014 02:51 PM EDT

What do you need to make the "world's most powerful" space rocket? The world's largest welder of course! NASA officially opened the Vertical Assembly Center, the largest spacecraft welding tool ever made, at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans this past week, paving the way for the next stage in crafting the groundbreaking SLS.

NASA officially announced the approval of the next generation rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) late last August, enabling the agency to move away from formulation tests and into the practical stages of development.

"The SLS Program continues to make significant progress," Todd May, the SLS program manager, said in a statement. "The core stage and boosters have both completed critical design review, and NASA recently approved the SLS Program's progression from formulation to development. This is a major milestone for the program and proof the first new design for SLS is mature enough for production."

And to get that development really underway, the agency's engineers realized they ere going to need a really big welder. Enter, the Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) - a 170-foot-tall, 78-foot-wide world-class welding toolkit that will be used to build the core stage of America's next great rocket.

The SLS itself is expected to tower over its predecessors, at a whopping 200 feet tall and with a diameter of 27.6 feet. The initial rocket will be a 70-metric ton version that will be able to lift about 130 metric tons into space, and will cost more than $7 billion to build over the course of three to four years.

"This rocket is a game changer in terms of deep space exploration and will launch NASA astronauts to investigate asteroids and explore the surface of Mars while opening new possibilities for science missions, as well," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the welder on Friday.

And while the welder will be fusing some important results of machining together, the SLS will also likely include a great deal of 3D printed parts, as NASA continues to investigate efficient applications of the incredible technology.

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