Launch Vehicle


    What is a launch vehicle?

    A launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.

    Launch Facts

    Launch Vehicle: Atlas V-541
    Height with payload:
    191 feet (58 meters)
    Mass, fully fueled, with spacecraft on top:
    About 1.17 million pounds (531,000 kilograms)

    Mars Science Laboratory Launches on an Atlas V-541

    When mission planners are considering different launch vehicles, what they take into consideration is how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space.

    A two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle lifted the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The vehicle was provided by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

    The Atlas V-541 vehicle was selected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements and rockets in the same family have successfully lifted NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and New Horizons missions.

    Details on the Launch Vehicle

    Atlas V rockets are expendable launch vehicles (ELVs), which means they are only used once.

    The three numbers in the 541 designation signify a payload fairing, or nose cone, that is approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter; four solid-rocket boosters fastened alongside the central common core booster; and a one-engine Centaur upper stage.

    Curiosity's Launch Vehicle
    Curiosity's Launch Vehicle: The launch vehicle supplied almost all of the energy that the spacecraft needed to get from Earth to Mars.
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    The major elements of the Atlas V-541 rocket that were used for the Mars Science Laboratory mission are:

    Stage 1: Atlas V Rocket

    Solid Rocket Motors

    Stage 2: Centaur

    Payload Fairing