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 Curiosity rover launched on a two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle, provided by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
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The Atlas V-541

The Atlas V-541 

The Atlas V-541 with the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft stands 191 feet (58 meters) tall. That's as tall as a 19 story building.
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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 

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.
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One Big Rocket!

One Big Rocket! 

Fully fueled, with the spacecraft, the Atlas V-541 rocket weighs 1.17 million pounds (531,000 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 

Rockets in the same family as the one carrying Curiosity have successfully lifted NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the New Horizons mission and most recently, the Juno spacecraft.
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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 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

Mars Science Laboratory Launches
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Mars Science Laboratory Launches
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, sealed inside its payload fairing atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, clears the tower at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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.


The launch vehicle supplied almost all of the energy that the spacecraft needed to get from Earth to Mars.
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Curiosity's Launch Vehicle
The launch vehicle supplied almost all of the energy that the spacecraft needed to get from Earth to Mars.

The major elements of the Atlas V-541 rocket that were used for the Mars Science Laboratory mission are: