SLS: NASA’s Next Big Thing

Article written: 15 Sep , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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NASA has officially unveiled the plan for their next large-scale rocket: the Space Launch System, or SLS, will provide heavy-lift capabilities for cargo and spacecraft to go beyond low-Earth orbit and is proposed as a safe, sustainable and efficient way to open up the next chapter in US space exploration.

SLS is designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Module, NASA’s next-generation human spaceflight vehicle that is specifically designed for long-duration missions. (Construction of the first space-bound MPCV began last week on September 9.)

Utilizing a modular design that can accommodate varying mission needs, SLS will also be able to provide service to the International Space Station.

“President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that’s exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.”

– NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

SLS will have an initial lift capacity of over 70 metric tons – about 154,000 pounds (70,000 kg). That’s three times the lift capability of the space shuttles! In the event of a Mars mission that can be upgraded to 130 metric tons – about the weight of 75 SUVs.

Artist image of SLS launch. Credit: NASA

The first developmental flight is targeted for the end of 2017.

SLS will be the first exploration-class vehicle since the giant Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Using rocket technology developed during the shuttle era and modified for the canceled Constellation program, combined with cutting-edge manufacturing processes, SLS will expand the boundaries of human spaceflight and extend our reach into the solar system.

“This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that’s exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.”

Read the NASA news release here.

(And check out this “Fun Facts” sheet on SLS.)

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12 Responses

  1. Torbjörn Larsson says

    “This launch system will create good-paying American jobs” = it will cost a lot.

    The question is how much?

    • Kasun Dewasurendra says

      the costs are usually extraordinary high, they need to create an efficient and ecological way to transport 70tons to the spacestation…

  2. The US spent $600B in ten years on the Department of Homeland Security and about $1 trillion on the Iraq/Afghan wars. In my opionion, spending a $10B on a space transportation system that could help humanity colonize the moon, Mars, and asteroids is a wholly worthwhile expenditure.

  3. I’m really more interested in results than plans right now. Getting tired of seeing concepts and lofty schemes just to see them shot down or worse – fade away into nothing.

  4. Chris Foote says

    I’d like to see a mission to an asteroid announced with this. If they are going to build it, they should at least have a goal for it to achieve.
    Does anyone know what asteroid might be visited. All I’ve ever hear is “an asteroid”

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      Theoretically there would be many to choose from. In practice there are but a few that can be reached within the duration capabilities of the MPCV*, and which are reasonably larger than the MPCV itself.

      And if you want to do it before 2025 there are currently only 2 such candidates, IIRC.

      Moreover, which one you would take depends on when you launch. Compare to the travel windows to Mars for the fastest trajectories, they don’t launch every year.

      Therefore they don’t pick a specific one as of yet. Instead astronomers and NASA has now a vested interest in knowing more about these asteroid populations. AFAIK quite a few are pushing for a Venus orbit observatory that would be ideally placed to catch many more than earlier observatories could.

      Well, a handful more. But even a factor 5-10 more to choose from would surely help.

      ————
      * The Dragon is capable of staying out 4 times as long as the MPCV according to Musk, 2 years instead of the half year an asteroid mission takes.

      But I don’t know if the astronauts can take that long missions. The longest have been a year. But in relatively radiation free LEO orbits. And what would such a prolonged free fall environment do to the body?

  5. Torbjörn Larsson says

    I have realized that this project is now “Constellation Mark II”. Specifically this part was originally named Ares V.

    It is unclear to me if the SLS cost estimate is a paper construction, a “keep them happy” number while the project is on a running cost basis, or if it is a proper estimate.

    Earlier reports quoted twice that number, which is in the original kill zone of these Constellation type projects. And I don’t see that any of Augustin’e recommendations (running projects sustainably instead of using up the capital early, make use of new technology, make use of commercials) are onboard.* So I don’t see how it can be cheaper, aside from what the added delays provides.

    [Unless the original Constellation was over-prized with a huge factor. And the involved has decided it is better to bleed NASA on part of that than getting nothing. Nah, it can’t be – and in any case those are conspiracy theories. =D]

    Though ATK/EADS launcher could be a commercial derivative, if it is constructed. So that, and the modularity thinking in the new design components, are taking money off and put them on partners.

    But they were promptly put back by the requirement that the SLS will be man rated, as opposed to its original design as Ares V. And _that_ modularity (man vs cargo lift) is rescinded.
    ————-
    * Except that the “Constellation Mark II” is not required to support ISS. Except that it is, since the MPCV is supposed to be a rescue vehicle to it. Oy!

  6. Torbjörn Larsson says

    I have realized that this project is now “Constellation Mark II”. Specifically this part was originally named Ares V.

    It is unclear to me if the SLS cost estimate is a paper construction, a “keep them happy” number while the project is on a running cost basis, or if it is a proper estimate.

    Earlier reports quoted twice that number, which is in the original kill zone of these Constellation type projects. And I don’t see that any of Augustin’e recommendations (running projects sustainably instead of using up the capital early, make use of new technology, make use of commercials) are onboard.* So I don’t see how it can be cheaper, aside from what the added delays provides.

    [Unless the original Constellation was over-prized with a huge factor. And the involved has decided it is better to bleed NASA on part of that than getting nothing. Nah, it can’t be – and in any case those are conspiracy theories. =D]

    Though ATK/EADS launcher could be a commercial derivative, if it is constructed. So that, and the modularity thinking in the new design components, are taking money off and put them on partners.

    But they were promptly put back by the requirement that the SLS will be man rated, as opposed to its original design as Ares V. And _that_ modularity (man vs cargo lift) is rescinded.
    ————-
    * Except that the “Constellation Mark II” is not required to support ISS. Except that it is, since the MPCV is supposed to be a rescue vehicle to it. Oy!

  7. Anonymous says

    Cool! Another ambitious plan that will get canceled at the last minute by the next administration!

  8. Mike O'Brien says

    Unbelievable… 43 years later and all we can come up with is a Saturn 5 clone with a couple of SRB’s strapped to the side… Progress… Pftttttttt.

  9. Mike O'Brien says

    Unbelievable… 43 years later and all we can come up with is a Saturn 5 clone with a couple of SRB’s strapped to the side… Progress… Pftttttttt.

  10. EK says

    Go USA go, I have faith in you. NASA show us your stuff. A big Yee Hah form Texas.
    It’s been a long time getting from there to here. I’ve got faith of the heart.

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