What are the experts saying about SLS?

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA’s recent unveiling of what its Space Launch System or SLS would look like created a buzz in the aerospace industry. Some experts in this field have weighed in on what they thought of the design, the politics and the time involved in producing the space agency’s next heavy-left launch vehicle.

Wayne Hale was NASA’s shuttle program manager before he left the space agency in 2010. In his view, the rocket is a needed tool to provide the country with the tools needed to power the U.S. to points beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO).

“All of us who are interested in the future advancement of space exploration applaud any efforts to expand launch capabilities. If the nation can afford a large rocket like the SLS, it would be very useful in the long run,” Hale said.

Kent Rominger, a former astronaut who is now Alliant Techsystems Vice-President for Test and Research Operations agrees. He says that the United States does not need either access to LEO or a heavy lift rocket – it needs both.

“For some reason we’ve been told that it’s either Heavy-Lift or access to LEO,” said Rominger. “If we ever want to go beyond LEO again – we need heavy lift.”

NASA's space launch system would use many of NASA's existing resources and facilities. Image Credit: NASA.gov

Robert Springer has decades of experience in the aerospace industry. First as a fighter pilot, and then as an astronaut before he entered the private sector with Boeing.

“It’s a relief to finally get a decision out of NASA, hopefully one that is fully supported by the administration and congress in terms of budget. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much, if anything new, in the way of technology. So why is it going to take so long to get it into testing and flight—NASA did the Apollo evolution faster, and it was pretty much new technology. Even the proposed look at liquid boosters is hardly new; MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) had several contracts with industry to look into this technology back in the 1990’s. There are likely other areas of technology enhancement that will be included, but again, I am relatively sure that a lot of the technology (new power storage devices, something other than hydrazine for control jets, improved monitoring systems, etc) has or is being looked at. In fact, shuttle was working on that sort of technology before the administration decided to pull the plug and cancel shuttle,” Springer said. “So, good to see NASA moving forward, but it would seem that they’re really being very conservative about going forward—not sure why. Other item of note, the latest announcement that the commercial development is going to take a step back and go forward with more traditional procurement, as opposed to some of the advances made in terms of the Space Act, seems like a giant leap backward.”

Charles Bolden, a former astronaut himself and NASA’s current administrator had this to say after NASA unveiled the rocket to the world.

“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.”

If other initiatives that NASA is currently investing in as well as SLS prove viable in the long term the space agency stands to not only regain the capacity to send astronauts to the International Space Station – it would also be able to once again travel beyond LEO.

The design of the SLS is similar to the proposed Ares V of the Constellation Program. Images Credit: NASA.gov

16 Replies to “What are the experts saying about SLS?”

  1. Government after providing Job ! Security Job 2 Stable Money Jib 3 Stable Law ought then to assist the private sector in education, infrastructure, research, and exploration. This big rocket is a welcome return to having at least one US Government function attend to its Job.

  2. This will be good for NASA and the country. Unmanned space exploration might be cheaper and more efficient – but we are born explorers, and I believe, destined to leave this planet.

    We can and should fund both technologies.

    1. You didn’t miss anything, that is the conclusion, Saturn V. But no steroids: lifts 10 % more.

      And Saturn was pulled because it cost too much.

  3. I was thinking along the lines of Robert Springer. This is a very conservative timeline. I am a little worried that after a few years where nothing much seems to have happened for the money spent will again put this project at risk of getting the ax.

    Anyone here with experience in this sort of program have more to say about why the schedule would be prolonged as it now seems?

  4. My only big criticism is why we still need to employ solid rockets, which release chlorinated compounds into the atmosphere. This seems to be an unfortunate retro-tech aspect to this.


    1. Maybe it’s because the boys at NASA like seeing the pretty white clouds of hydrogen chloride (HCL)* stretching into the blue sky and lit up by sunshine. 😉

      *Normally a colourless gas which forms white fumes of hydrochloric acid upon contact with atmospheric humidity.

    2. It’s basically because senators and representatives with enough pull in Utah (ATK) said; ‘make it so…’

  5. More traditional NASA-style hype. Charles Borden is talking about “dreaming big”, but is also talking about taking recycled technology to make a rocket for use possibly a decade or more in the future. As with many other projects, this one will end up being overbudget, take longer than expected and risk being cancelled at the last minute due to budget cuts or administration changes. Who knows, if Obama is not re-elected, a whole new administration with new priorities (or no priorities) for space exploration could come in and change it all again. Some of the experts may be impressed, but I’m rather pessimistic about the whole thing. The US appears to be losing their space supremacy, especially now that they don’t even have a LEO capabilities. We will have to look to Russia, China and maybe India for the future of human space exploration for the time being.

    1. This should be the cheapest option to build. Technology used in the construction of the ET can be re-used as well as the SSMEs. The tooling and infrastructure to build these components already exists and the engineering costs will be much lower than developing something from scratch. Space-X is not proven technology nor is it man-rated.

      1. You have a point, but it takes competitive bidding on a fixed costs basis to locate the “cheapest option”. Teledyne-Aerojet may compete with ATK on parts of the booster system, but otherwise, SLS procurement ($55 billion through 2025 by some NASA estimates) will be sole-sourced at corporate welfare rates.

  6. Looks like a nice job of former Space Shuttle vendors… the boosters, etc. plus the Rocket itself strangely resembles the Saturn V of 40 years ago… Is that all NASA can come up with???

    SpaceX’s possibilities with the next generation Super-Heavy Lifter could do the job easily and much much cheaper than any government program…

  7. “If we ever want to go beyond LEO again – we need heavy lift.”

    And if we want a large space station structure, we need heavy lift to get it up there in one shot…

    Oh, wait…

  8. The biggest mistake is in making it crew-rated from the start. Better to stimulate private efforts at human access, and make this a BDB for cargo.
    For that matter, it should have been the Side-Mount variant from a few years ago. Stretch-able to get the same tonnage as this, and everything is the same as it stands now, from the ET & SRBs (for smaller initial payloads) to the VAB and launch pad service to the barge & rail network that move the parts around.
    This “in-line” costs more because everything is different than what we use now -but that’s the point. Spread money around congressional districts to get the votes for the budget.

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