Launch Vehicle

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 Vehicle

Launch Vehicle 

The Mars 2020 rover launches on a two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle, provided by United Launch Alliance. The Mars 2020 mission will address high-priority science goals for the agency's Journey to Mars.
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Launching from Florida

Launching from Florida 

The Mars 2020 rover launches from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
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Why Do You Need A Large Rocket?

Why Do You Need A Large Rocket? 

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

Choosing a Launch Vehicle 

When mission planners are considering different launch vehicles, they take into consideration how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space.
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Selecting the Atlas V

Selecting the Atlas V 

NASA selected the Atlas V-541 for the Mars 2020 mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements.
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One Big Rocket!

One Big Rocket! 

Fully fueled, with the spacecraft, the Atlas V-541 rocket may weigh 1 million pounds (500,000 kilograms). That’s about 14 big rigs, fully loaded with cargo.
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Other Missions Used Similar Rocket

Other Missions Used Similar Rocket 

Using rockets in the Atlas V family, NASA has successfully launched Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, New Horizons, Mars Science Laboratory, and Juno.
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Rocket Only Used Once

Rocket Only Used Once 

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

Rocket Parts 

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

Stages of Launch 

This launch is comprised of two primary stages or steps. The first stage is firing the common booster. This is what powers the engine into Earth orbit.
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Stages of Launch

Stages of Launch 

The four solid rocket boosters add thrust to this first stage.
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Centaur Upper Stage

Centaur Upper Stage 

The next step is the Centaur upper stage, which is used to accelerate the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and on its way to Mars.
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Launch Facts


Launch: 2020
Launch Site:
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
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)


Launch vehicle for this mission

The Mars 2020 mission is designed to launch at a time when Earth and Mars are in positions in their orbits that is advantageous for spacecraft traveling to and landing on Mars. This favorable position of the planets means that it takes less launch energy to get to the Red Planet compared to other times when Earth and Mars are in different positions in their orbits around the sun.

Mars 2020 Launches on an Atlas V 541

When mission planners are choosing among different launch vehicles, they consider how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space. The integrated Mars 2020 flight system is similar in size and mass to its predecessor, the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The Mars Science Laboratory mission had a total launch mass, including the Atlas V-541 that lifted it away from Earth, of about 531,000 kilograms (1.17 million pounds).

Mars 2020 launches on an Atlas V-541, an intermediate-class launch vehicle. NASA selected this rocket because it has the right liftoff capability for the "heavy weight" requirements for Mars 2020. NASA has also successfully used rockets in the same family for prior missions such as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, New Horizons, Mars Science Laboratory, and Juno.

United Launch Alliance provides Mars 2020’s launch vehicle. NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida manages the Atlas V launch service for Mars 2020. The two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle lifts off from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.



The major elements of the Atlas V-541 rocket
that will be used for the Mars 2020 mission are: