NASA and its industry partners around the country also made swift progress on the Space Launch System (SLS) this year, testing and developing new components and improving on existing hardware. New construction on the largest rocket ever built is enabled by existing, proven technology, like the space shuttle main engines that will power the first stage of the rocket. The new J-2X engine, which is targeted to power the upper stage of the rocket, underwent a battery of tests that broke duration records and pushed the engine design to its limits.
The Orion, SLS, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs also reached their critical milestones this year each with an approved system requirement review and system definition review. Those pivotal steps allowed these programs to move from concept into its preliminary design phase and all remain on target for its first flight test in 2017.
NASA'S HUBBLE PROVIDES FIRST CENSUS OF GALAXIES NEAR COSMIC DAWNUsing NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers announced Dec. 12 they have seen further back in time than ever before and have uncovered a previously unseen population of seven primitive galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 3 percent of its present age. The deepest images to date from Hubble yield the first statistically robust sample of galaxies that tells how abundant they were close to the era when galaxies first formed. The greater depth of the new Hubble images, together with a carefully designed survey strategy, allows this work to go further than previous studies, thereby providing what researchers say is the first reliable galaxy census of this epoch. Notably, one of the galaxies may be a distance record breaker, observed 380 million years after the birth of our universe in the theorized big bang.