The Atlas V-541
Why Do You Need A Large Rocket?
Choosing a Launch Vehicle
Selecting the Atlas V
One Big Rocket!
Other Missions Used Similar Rocket
Rocket Only Used Once
Stages of Launch
Stages of Launch
Centaur Upper Stage
A launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.
Mars Science Laboratory Launched 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 16.4 feet (approximately 5 meters) in diameter; four solid-rocket boosters fastened alongside the central common core booster; and a one-engine Centaur upper stage.
The major elements of the Atlas V-541 rocket that were used for the MSL mission are:
|Stage 1: Atlas V Rocket: Fuel and oxygen tanks that feed an engine for the ascent; powers spacecraft into Earth orbit.
|Solid Rocket Motors: Used to increase engine thrust; 4 total.
|Stage 2: Centaur: Fuel and oxidizer and the vehicle's "brains"; fires twice, once to insert the vehicle-spacecraft stack into low Earth orbit and then again to accelerate the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and on its way towards Mars.
|Payload Fairing Thin composite or nose cone to protect the spacecraft during the ascent through Earth's atmosphere.