NASA is building the largest rocket ever, and it's set to launch in 2018

Standing at 117 metres, the Space Launch System (SLS) will be the largest rocket ever built, even larger than Saturn V, the 110-metre-tall rocket that took astronauts to the Moon. And it needs to be - its goal is to carry astronauts into orbit around an asteroid, and, by the 2030s, to Mars, as Carl Franzen reports for The Verge.

The SLS will also be extremely powerful, and will have 20 percent more thrust than Saturn V thanks to an engine that uses both liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel. You can see the prototype in the artist’s rendering above.

NASA’s announcement last week said that the program is currently on track for unmanned test launches to begin in four years. If successful, this will be NASA’s first vehicle to carry American astronauts into space since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.

For the past three years, NASA has been hitching costly rides aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. However, if things go as planned, NASA’s next stage of space exploration will be pretty exciting.

As Franzen writes

“While SpaceX and other private companies are working furiously to provide their own human passenger spacecraft for travel into Earth's orbit, NASA wants to go even further. The agency has begun testing models of the SLS and initial construction of some the major components. It says the first test flight will have an initial cost of $7 billion. The SLS will also be reusing some leftover parts from the inventory of the retired Space Shuttle, including its engines.”

**UPDATE 15/9/2014: NASA has just released this beautiful animation of what the Space Launch System will look like blasting off. Amazing!**

Check out a video of one of the rockets being tested below, and see photos of the blueprints, construction and progress over at The Verge.

Source: The Verge