NASA has dreamed up the world's most powerful rocket, a behemoth that borrows from the workhorse liquid-fuel rockets that sent Apollo missions into space four decades ago. The rocket may cost upto a whopping...
Eventually the rocket will grow to 400 feet tall (121.92 metres), weigh 3250 tons and be able to carry another 143 tons into space, maybe even 165 tons, the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said. By comparison, the long-dormant Saturn V booster that sent men to the moon was able to lift 130 tons.
The plans dwarf the rumbling liftoff power of the space shuttle, which could haul just 27 tons. The biggest current unmanned rocket can carry about 25 tons.
Some of the design elements, the deadline and the requirement for such a rocket were dictated by Congress. Senators were talking about issuing subpoenas to NASA because they felt the space agency was taking too long in coming up with the design, but NASA officials said they just wanted to get all the details right before unveiling the plan.
The giant rocket will be powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel. During the initial test flights, it will use solid rocket boosters designed for the shuttle strapped on its outside, and will have shuttle main engines powering it on the inside. But soon after that the solid rocket boosters will be replaced with new boosters that should have advanced technology and may be either liquid or solid.
NASA hopes to free up money for the rocket by turning over the launching of astronauts to the International Space Station, which orbits the Earth, to private companies and just rent spaces for astronauts like a giant taxi service. NASA officials aren't sure how much they'll save because it depends on how much the firms will charge and when they will start flying.
Stanford University engineering professor Scott Hubbard worries that NASA has a history of spending far more than initially proposed — the space shuttle cost about twice what it was supposed to — and that this new rocket system will drain money from other NASA missions. NASA already has major financial overruns with the still-under-construction, multibillion-dollar replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope.