NASA reaches deal to build most powerful rocket ever

Blasting into deep-space in 2021

NASA and Boeing have reached a $2.8 billion agreement to develop the Space launch system rocket, a deep-space craft billed as the most powerful rocket ever.

Astronauts could be heading into deep-space by 2021 if all goes to NASA's plan.

The space agency's most powerful rocket to date, called the Space Launch System, has been given the green light and should be ready for unmanned take-off in 2017 and manned flight in 2021.

Boeing will develop the avionics for the booster, set to be even more powerful than the legendary Saturn 5 rocket that took the first astronauts to the moon.

The Space Launch System will stand 321 feet tall and be able to lift 154,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit, with a second, 384-foot version capable of lifting 286,000 pounds, including a capsule-shaped Orion spacecraft with astronauts inside.

The rocket will be powered into space by four hydrogen-fueled engines and two solid-fuel boosters capable of generating a total thrust of 8.4 million pounds at liftoff.

"Our teams have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the SLS -- the largest ever -- will be built safely, affordably and on time," Virginia Barnes, Boeing's Space Launch System (SLS) VP and program manager, said in a statement.

The contract was only recently completed after NASA and Boeing finished critical testing of the rocket's new booster.

Although NASA's new toy hasn't had an easy time. Critics estimate the cost of the Space Launch System program around $18bn and have said the space agency should cancel the rocket and rely on commercial rockets from companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Source: NASA