New NASA Spaceship Orion And SLS Rocket Will Send Astronauts Farther Into Space Than Ever Before [VIDEO]

By Danny Choy on October 31, 2012 12:05 PM EDT

The latest Orion spaceship from NASA is the first all-new spaceship the American space agency will build since it developed the space shuttle during the 1970s. Built by American aerospace company Lockheed Martin, the Orion marks an all new era in space travel. Fast-tracking its development, NASA has decided to schedule the first unmanned launch test as early as 2014.

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Orion program manager Mark Geyer said, "I think having a test flight in '14 is huge -- people can see it right there. It's a really important goal."

According to space.com, the new module is designed to carry humans farther into the solar system than ever. In fact, NASA is designing the Orion for manned mission to Mars. A new frontier, NASA is so fully committed to the endeavor that the agency is even planning to terminate low-Earth orbit operations, including International Space Station missions, and electing to outsource low-Earth operations for private sector companies instead.

NASA's original Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle project was initiated under the agency's Constellation program. After the program was prematurely cancelled by the Obama administration, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle is refocused in a new initiation known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

Essentially, the new Orion MPCV possesses five main components-- the crew module, the service module, the spacecraft adapter, the instrumental unit, and the launch abort system. The crew module is a small pod serving as the snug (let's face it, claustrophobic) cabin for a total of four crew members during missions lasting as long as three weeks. Next, the service module is responsible for carrying large solar panels necessary for electrical power as well as breathing oxygen for the occupants. What's more, the service module carries the main rocket engine as well. Next, the spacecraft adapter serves the straightforward responsibility of attaching the MPCV module to the booster rocket. Finally, an Instrument Unit provides the astronauts with guidance and control electronics to use the booster rocket. In the event of a malfunction, the final key component on the MPCV is the launch abort system, which will trigger when necessary to pull the astronauts from catastrophe.

 See how NASA's new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the Orion capsule, stacks up against other crewed spaceships in this SPACE.com infographic.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration 

Now that we're familiar with the main capsule for the crew, what sort of booster rocket is capable of propelling the astronauts to trajectories to Mars and beyond? NASA has announced that an all new Delta 4 heavy-lift rocket is currently in the works. Known as the Space Launch System (SLS), the new rocket design from prime contractor Boeing boasts theoretical figures that are capable of reaching as far as the moons of Pluto. That's totally far out, dude.

In fact, with a staggering 286,000 pounds of thrust, the new SLS rocket boasts unprecedented propulsion systems and will be capable of carrying more fuel, more instruments, and reduce mission time all at once. Given the new capabilities, the SLS will be so effective that it will no longer require multiple gravity-assist maneuvers to reach velocity. Instead, time-saving direct trajectories could potentially allow the possibilities of even more ambitious missions including non-manned flights to Pluto's Charon, Jupiter's Europa, Saturn's Titan, or even pierce through Jupiter's atmosphere and the ice water jets of Saturn's Enceladus.

Illustrated expanded view Orion-SLS configuration
Illustrated expanded view Orion-SLS configuration

The very first Orion-SLS paired test launch will be conducted a little later in 2017. Without upper stage rockets in its first round of launches, the SLS will only be capable of low-Earth orbits with 154,000 pounds of thrust. By 2022, NASA expects the rocket to attain more powerful upper stage hardware necessary for its intended missions.

Learn more about NASA's SLS project in the awe-inspiring short video below:

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