NASA's imaginatively-named Space Launch System (SLS), has entered its critical design review phase, which will see the leviathan rocket given the go-ahead for full-scale construction. The review represents a major milestone that must be passed with flying colors if the SLS is to make its intended maiden launch date, which is currently slated for 2017.
Individual elements of the rocket, including the 177-ft (54-m) solid fuel boosters and the R-25 main stage engines have already passed their design review. With this done, an overall assessment of the rocket is taking place in the form of the integrated program review. It will require the analysis of thousands of documents and months of hard work for the staff at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The process will involve a comprehensive analysis of the SLS's design, ensuring that it meets a set of stringent standards, with an emphasis on safety, cost, schedule constraints, and sustainability.
Should it pass the critical review phase, which is set to conclude in late July this year, it will continue a regimen of production, assembly, integration, and testing, leading up to its maiden flight.
The launch will see the leviathan hurl an unmanned Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. A future variation of the rocket will represent the most powerful launch vehicle ever created, with a lift capacity exceeding that of the fabled Apollo-era Saturn-V rocket.