NASA has commenced a critical design review (CDR) of its space launch system (SLS) at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, US.

The milestone will allow the SLS to proceed with full-scale production, assembly, integration, and testing and subsequent major review covering design certification.

Said to be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, the SLS will carry crew and cargo on deep space missions, including to an asteroid and Mars. It is currently planned to take first flight in 2017.

NASA’s CDR will ensure that the SLS design complies with system requirements, as well as analyse safety, cost and schedule constraints.

SLS programme manager Todd May said: "We pore over every part of this rocket during these reviews.

"Thousands of documents and months of time are put into making sure the design is sound, safe and sustainable, and will make NASA’s mission of furthering human spaceflight possible."

Individual elements of the rocket such as boosters and engines have completed CDR, while spacecraft and payload integration and evolution (SPIE) is preparing for the review.

"Thousands of documents and months of time are put into making sure the design is sound, safe and sustainable."

The SPIE office designs and develops rocket components, including the Orion stage adapter, interim cryogenic propulsion stage and launch vehicle stage adapter.

While managing in-house research, the office works with academia, industry and government agencies to develop new technologies and systems for the US launch industry.

The SLS programme review is scheduled for completion in late July.

For the first flight, the SLS will be configured with a 77t lift capacity and will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. The flight is designed to evaluate the capabilities of the integrated system.

The SLS will be further developed with a record lift capability of 143t to support future missions even farther into the solar system.

Image: An artist’s impression of NASA’s space launch system wireframe design. Photo: courtesy of NASA / MSFC.