NASA is hard at work on the space launch system and capsule that will replace the retired space shuttle fleet to carry American astronauts into orbit and to the ISS. The Orion capsule that will carry the crew and cargo into orbit is currently in testing. NASA is also working on the rocket that will push the capsule into orbit.
The rocket system is called the Space Launch System or SLS. SLS has hit a milestone with what NASA calls "first light" for the flight system. First light is where the hardware, software, and operating system for the SLS was integrated and powered up for the first time.
Once completed, the SLS will have the greatest launch capacity of any launch system ever built. NASA's goal with the SLS is to minimize the cost of launches and reduce the risk of deep space journeys. The flight system was integrated at the Integrated Avionics Test Facilities, which provided the structure and simulation capability to model the environment that the control system will experience during launch.
The SLS features the most powerful computer processor ever used on a flight system. The avionics and flight computer will be housed in the SLS core stage. That core stage will be 200 feet tall when complete and used to store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the SLS's RS-25 engines. The SLS will have a 77-ton lift capacity and the first test flight for the system is expected in 2017. The first test flight for the Orion capsule is expected to happen this year.