“American will once again lead in space for the benefit and security of all of our people and all of the world,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a speech on Thursday, July 6, addressing a huge crowd of more than 500 NASA officials and workers, government dignitaries and space industry leaders gathered inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center – where Apollo/Saturn Moon landing rockets and Space Shuttles were assembled for decades in the past and where NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion deep space crew capsule will be assembled for future human missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Pence pronounced the bold space exploration goals and a reemphasis on NASA’s human spaceflight efforts from his new perch as Chairman of the newly reinstated National Space Council just established under an executive order signed by President Trump.
However Pence was short on details and he did not announce any specific plans, timetables or funding during his 25 minute long speech inside the iconic VAB at KSC.
It remains to been seen how the rhetoric will turn to reality and all important funding support.
The Trump Administration actually cut their NASA 2018 budget request by $0.5 Billion to $19.1 Billion compared to the enacted 2017 NASA budget of $19.6 Billion – including cuts to SLS and Orion.
By contrast, the Republican led Congress – with bipartisan support – is working on a 2018 NASA budget of around 19.8 Billion.
“Let us do what our nation has always done since its very founding and beyond: We’ve pushed the boundaries on frontiers, not just of territory, but of knowledge. We’ve blazed new trails, and we’ve astonished the world as we’ve boldly grasped our future without fear.”
“From this ‘Bridge to Space,’ our nation will return to the moon, and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.” Pence declared.
Lined up behind Pence on the podium was the Orion spacecraft flown on Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in 2014 flanked by a flown SpaceX cargo Dragon and a mockup of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule.
The crewed Dragon and Starliner capsules are being developed by SpaceX and Boeing under NASA contracts as commercial crew vehicles to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
Pence reiterated the Trump Administrations support of the ISS and working with industry to cut the cost of access to space.
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot also welcomed Vice President Pence to KSC and thanked the Trump Administration for its strong support of NASA missions.
“Here, of all places, we can see we’re not looking at an ‘and/or proposition’,” Lightfoot said.
“We need government and commercial entities. We need large companies and small companies. We need international partners and our domestic suppliers. And we need academia to bring that innovation and excitement that they bring to the next workforce that we’re going to use to actually keep going further into space than we ever have before.”
After the VAB speech, Pence went on an extensive up close inspection tour of KSC facilities led by Kennedy Space Center Director and former shuttle astronaut Robert Cabana, showcasing the SLS and Orion hardware and infrastructure critical for NASA’s plans to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s.
“We are in a great position here at Kennedy, we made our vision a reality; it couldn’t have been done without the passion and energy of our workforce,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Cabana.
“Kennedy is fully established as a multi-user spaceport supporting both government and commercial partners in the space industry. As America’s premier multi-user spaceport, Kennedy continues to make history as it evolves, launching to low-Earth orbit and beyond.”
Pence toured the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) where the Orion deep space capsule is being manufactured for launch in 2019 on the first integrated flight with SLS on the uncrewed EM-1 mission to the Moon and back – as I witnessed for Universe Today.
Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
MICHOUD ASSEMBLY FACILITY, NEW ORLEANS, LA – NASA has just finished welding together the very first fuel tank for America’s humongous Space Launch System (SLS) deep space rocket currently under development – and Universe Today had an exclusive up close look at the liquid hydrogen (LH2) test tank shortly after its birth as well as the first flight tank, during a tour of NASA’s New Orleans rocket manufacturing facility on Friday, July 22, shortly after completion of the milestone assembly operation.
“We have just finished welding the first liquid hydrogen qualification tank article …. and are in the middle of production welding of the first liquid hydrogen flight hardware tank [for SLS-1] in the big Vertical Assembly Center welder!” explained Patrick Whipps, NASA SLS Stages Element Manager, in an exclusive hardware tour and interview with Universe Today on July 22, 2016 at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans.
“We are literally putting the SLS rocket hardware together here at last. All five elements to put the SLS stages together [at Michoud].”
This first fully welded SLS liquid hydrogen tank is known as a ‘qualification test article’ and it was assembled using basically the same components and processing procedures as an actual flight tank, says Whipps.
“We just completed the liquid hydrogen qualification tank article and lifted it out of the welding machine and put it into some cradles. We will put it into a newly designed straddle carrier article next week to transport it around safely and reliably for further work.”
And welding of the liquid hydrogen flight tank is moving along well.
“We will be complete with all SLS core stage flight tank welding in the VAC by the end of September,” added Jackie Nesselroad, SLS Boeing manager at Michoud. “It’s coming up very quickly!”
“The welding of the forward dome to barrel 1 on the liquid hydrogen flight tank is complete. And we are doing phased array ultrasonic testing right now!”
SLS is the most powerful booster the world has even seen and one day soon will propel NASA astronauts in the agency’s Orion crew capsule on exciting missions of exploration to deep space destinations including the Moon, Asteroids and Mars – venturing further out than humans ever have before!
The LH2 ‘qualification test article’ was welded together using the world’s largest welder – known as the Vertical Assembly Center, or VAC, at Michoud.
And it’s a giant! – measuring approximately 130-feet in length and 27.6 feet (8.4 m) in diameter.
See my exclusive up close photos herein documenting the newly completed tank as the first media to visit the first SLS tank. I saw the big tank shortly after it was carefully lifted out of the welder and placed horizontally on a storage cradle on Michoud’s factory floor.
Finishing its assembly after years of meticulous planning and hard work paves the path to enabling the maiden test launch of the SLS heavy lifter in the fall of 2018 from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
The qual test article is the immediate precursor to the actual first LH2 flight tank now being welded.
“We will finish welding the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen flight tanks by September,” Whipps told Universe Today.
Technicians assembled the LH2 tank by feeding the individual metallic components into NASA’s gigantic “Welding Wonder” machine – as its affectionately known – at Michoud, thus creating a rigid 13 story tall structure.
The welding work was just completed this past week on the massive silver colored structure. It was removed from the VAC welder and placed horizontally on a cradle.
I watched along as the team was also already hard at work fabricating SLS’s first liquid hydrogen flight article tank in the VAC, right beside the qualification tank resting on the floor.
Welding of the other big fuel tank, the liquid oxygen (LOX) qualification and flight article tanks will follow quickly inside the impressive ‘Welding Wonder’ machine, Nesselroad explained.
The LH2 and LOX tanks sit on top of one another inside the SLS outer skin.
The SLS core stage – or first stage – is mostly comprised of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen cryogenic fuel storage tanks which store the rocket propellants at super chilled temperatures. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage.
To prove that the new welding machines would work as designed, NASA opted “for a 3 stage assembly philosophy,” Whipps explained.
Engineers first “welded confidence articles for each of the tank sections” to prove out the welding techniques “and establish a learning curve for the team and test out the software and new weld tools. We learned a lot from the weld confidence articles!”
“On the heels of that followed the qualification weld articles” for tank loads testing.
“The qualification articles are as ‘flight-like’ as we can get them! With the expectation that there are still some tweaks coming.”
“And finally that leads into our flight hardware production welding and manufacturing the actual flight unit tanks for launches.”
“All the confidence articles and the LH2 qualification article are complete!”
What’s the next step for the LH2 tank?
The test article tank will be outfitted with special sensors and simulators attached to each end to record reams of important engineering data, thereby extending it to about 185 feet in length.
Thereafter it will loaded onto the Pegasus barge and shipped to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for structural loads testing on one of two new test stands currently under construction for the tanks. The tests are done to prove that the tanks can withstand the extreme stresses of spaceflight and safely carry our astronauts to space.
“We are manufacturing the simulators for each of the SLS elements now for destructive tests – for shipment to Marshall. It will test all the stress modes, and finally to failure to see the process margins.”
The SLS core stage builds on heritage from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and is based on the shuttle’s External Tank (ET). All 135 ET flight units were built at Michoud during the thirty year long shuttle program by Lockheed Martin.
“We saved billions of dollars and years of development effort vs. starting from a clean sheet of paper design, by taking aspects of the shuttle … and created an External Tank type generic structure – with the forward avionics on top and the complex engine section with 4 engines (vs. 3 for shuttle) on the bottom,” Whipps elaborated.
“This is truly an engineering marvel like the External Tank was – with its strength that it had and carrying the weight that it did. If you made our ET the equivalent of a Coke can, our thickness was about 1/5 of a coke can.”
“It’s a tremendous engineering job. But the ullage pressures in the LOX and LH2 tanks are significantly more and the systems running down the side of the SLS tank are much more sophisticated. Its all significantly more complex with the feed lines than what we did for the ET. But we brought forward the aspects and designs that let us save time and money and we knew were effective and reliable.”
The SLS core stage is comprised of five major structures: the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank (LOX), the intertank, the liquid hydrogen tank (LH2) and the engine section.
The LH2 and LOX tanks feed the cryogenic propellants into the first stage engine propulsion section which is powered by a quartet of RS-25 engines – modified space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) – and a pair of enhanced five segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) also derived from the shuttles four segment boosters.
The tanks are assembled by joining previously manufactured dome, ring and barrel components together in the Vertical Assembly Center by a process known as friction stir welding. The rings connect and provide stiffness between the domes and barrels.
The LH2 tank is the largest major part of the SLS core stage. It holds 537,000 gallons of super chilled liquid hydrogen. It is comprised of 5 barrels, 2 domes, and 2 rings.
The LOX tank holds 196,000 pounds of liquid oxygen. It is assembled from 2 barrels, 2 domes, and 2 rings and measures over 50 feet long.
The material of construction of the tanks has changed compared to the ET.
“The tanks are constructed of a material called the Aluminum 2219 alloy,” said Whipps. “It’s a ubiquosly used aerospace alloy with some copper but no lithium, unlike the shuttle superlightweight ET tanks that used Aluminum 2195. The 2219 has been a success story for the welding. This alloy is heavier but does not affect our payload potential.”
“The intertanks are the only non welded structure. They are bolted together and we are manufacturing them also. It’s much heavier and thicker.”
Overall, the SLS core stage towers over 212 feet (64.6 meters) tall and sports a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 m).
NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Center is the world’s largest robotic weld tool. The domes and barrels are assembled from smaller panels and piece parts using other dedicated robotic welding machines at Michoud.
The total weight of the whole core stage empty is 188,000 pounds and 2.3 million pounds when fully loaded with propellant. The empty ET weighed some 55,000 pounds.
Considering that the entire Shuttle ET was 154-feet long, the 130-foot long LH2 tank alone isn’t much smaller and gives perspective on just how big it really is as the largest rocket fuel tank ever built.
“So far all the parts of the SLS rocket are coming along well.”
“The Michoud SLS workforce totals about 1000 to 1500 people between NASA and the contractors.”
Every fuel tank welded together from now on after this series of confidence and qualification LOX and LH2 tanks will be actual flight article tanks for SLS launches.
“There are no plans to weld another qualification tank after this,” Nesselroad confirmed to me.
What’s ahead for the SLS-2 core stage?
“We start building the second SLS flight tanks in October of this year – 2016!” Nesselroad stated.
The world’s largest welder was specifically designed to manufacture the core stage of the world’s most powerful rocket – NASA’s SLS.
The Vertical Assembly Center welder was officially opened for business at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was personally on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the base of the huge VAC welder.
The state-of-the-art welding giant stands 170 feet tall and 78 feet wide. It complements the world-class welding toolkit being used to assemble various pieces of the SLS core stage including the domes, rings and barrels that have been previously manufactured.
The maiden test flight of the SLS/Orion is targeted for no later than November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) Block 1 configuration with a liftoff thrust of 8.4 million pounds – more powerful than NASA’s Saturn V moon landing rocket.
Although the SLS-1 flight in 2018 will be uncrewed, NASA plans to launch astronauts on the SLS-2/EM-2 mission slated for the 2021 to 2023 timeframe.
The exact launch dates fully depend on the budget NASA receives from Congress and who is elected President in the November 2016 election – and whether they maintain or modify NASA’s objectives.
“If we can keep our focus and keep delivering, and deliver to the schedules, the budgets and the promise of what we’ve got, I think we’ve got a very capable vision that actually moves the nation very far forward in moving human presence into space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, during the post QM-2 SRB test media briefing in Utah last month.
“This is a very capable system. It’s not built for just one or two flights. It is actually built for multiple decades of use that will enable us to eventually allow humans to go to Mars in the 2030s.”
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about SLS and Orion crew vehicle, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Juno at Jupiter, Orbital ATK Antares & Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
July 27-28: “ULA Atlas V NRO Spysat launch July 28, SpaceX launch to ISS on CRS-9, SLS, Orion, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy NRO spy satellite, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL — A classified surveillance satellite set to fortify the reconnaissance capabilities of America’s spy masters is now scheduled to launch this Thursday afternoon, June 9, atop America’s most powerful rocket – the Delta 4 Heavy.
Lift off of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Thursday, June 9 is slated for 1:59 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
This follows a four day delay from June 5 to deal with a last minute and unspecified payload issue.
“Spacecraft, rocket and support systems are ready!” tweeted the NRO.
Although almost everything about the clandestine payload, its mission, purpose and goals are classified top secret, it is certainly vital to America’s national security.
We do know that NROL-37 will be launched for the NRO on an intelligence gathering mission in support of US national defense.
The possible roles for the reconnaissance payload include signals intelligence, eavesdropping, imaging and spectroscopic observations, early missile warnings and much more.
The NRO runs a vast fleet of powerful orbital assets hosting a multitude of the most advanced, wide ranging and top secret capabilities.
The payload is named NROL-37 and will be carried to an undisclosed orbit, possibly geostationary, by the triple barreled ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket – currently the largest and most powerful rocket in the world.
It is manufactured and launched by ULA as part of the Delta rocket family. This includes the Delta 4 Medium which can launch with strap on solid rocket boosters. ULA also builds and launches the Atlas V rocket family.
To date nine NRO payloads have flown on Delta 4 rockets. NROL-37 will be the 32nd Delta IV mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch.
The NRO was formed in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and secretly created on September 6, 1961.
“The purpose is overseeing all satellite and overflight reconnaissance projects whether overt or covert. The existence of the organization is no longer classified today, but we’re still pressing to perform the functions necessary to keep American citizens safe,” according to the official NRO website.
Precisely because this is a launch of the mighty triple barreled Delta 4 Heavy, the view all around is sure to be spectacular and is highly recommended – in case you are in the Florida Space Coast area or surrounding regions.
One thing for sure is the top secret payload is huge and weighty since it requires the heaviest of the heavies to blast off.
Watch this ULA video showing the mating of the classified reconnaissance payload to the rocket.
Video Caption: The NROL-37 payload is mated to a Delta IV Heavy rocket inside the Mobile Service Tower or MST at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-37. Credit: ULA
Another unclassified aspect we know about this flight is that the weather forecast is rather iffy.
The official Air Forces prognosis calls for only a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions.
The primary concerns are for Anvil Clouds, Cumulus Clouds and Lightning.
In case of a scrub for any reason related to technical or weather issues, the next launch opportunity is 48 hours later on Saturday. June 11.
The weather odds rise significantly to an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions on June 11.
Somewhat surprisingly ULA has just announced the launch time – which is planned for 1:59 p.m. EDT (1759 GMT).
And you can even watch a ULA broadcast which starts 20 minutes prior to the given launch time at 1:39 p.m. EDT.
Webcast link: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37
Since this is a national security launch, the exact launch time is actually classified and could easily occur later than 1:59 p.m.
The launch period extends until 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT). The actual launch window is also classified and somewhere within the launch period.
Seeing a Delta 4 Heavy soar to space is a rare treat since they launch infrequently.
The last of these to launch from the Cape was for NASA’s inaugural test flight of the Orion crew capsule on the EFT-1 launch in Dec. 5, 2014. No other rocket was powerful enough.
The Delta IV Heavy employs three Common Core Boosters (CBCs). Two serve as strap-on liquid rocket boosters (LRBs) to augment the first-stage CBC and 5-m-diameter payload fairing housing the payload.
Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the SpaceX launch pad.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
June 8/9: “SpaceX, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA officials proudly unveiled the pressure vessel for the agency’s new Orion capsule destined to launch on the EM-1 mission to the Moon in 2018, after the vehicle arrived at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida last week aboard NASA’s unique Super Guppy aircraft.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Looking amazingly like a fish flying across the skies high above the Florida space coast, NASA’s unique Super Guppy aircraft loaded with the structural backbone for NASA’s next Orion crew module, swooped in for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday afternoon, Feb. 1.
In a major step towards flight, engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have finished welding together the pressure vessel for the first Lunar Orion crew module that will blastoff in 2018 atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
NASA has just received a significant boost in the agency’s current budget after both chambers of Congress passed the $1.1 Trillion 2016 omnibus spending bill this morning, Friday, Dec. 18, which funds the US government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.
In the wake of NASA’s supremely successful inaugural test flight of the Oriondeep space capsule on the EFT-1 mission in Dec. 2014, NASA is beefing up the critical thermal protection system (TPS) that will protect astronauts from the searing heats experienced during reentry as the human rated vehicle plunges through the Earth’s atmosphere after returning from ambitious expeditions to the Moon and beyond.
Based in part on lessons learned from EFT-1, engineers are refining Orion’s heat shield to enhance the design, ease manufacturing procedures and significantly strengthen is heat resistant capabilities for the far more challenging space environments and missions that lie ahead later this decade and planned further out in the future as part of NASA’s agency-wide ‘Journey to Mars’ initiative to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
NASA took another big step on the path to propel our astronauts back to deep space and ultimately on to Mars with the long awaited decision to formally restart production of the venerable RS-25 engine that will power the first stage of the agency’s mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket, currently under development.
Aerojet Rocketdyne was awarded a NASA contract to reopen the production lines for the RS-25 powerplant and develop and manufacture a certified engine for use in NASA’s SLS rocket. The contract spans from November 2015 through Sept. 30, 2024.
The SLS is the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen and will loft astronauts in the Orion capsule on missions back to the Moon by around 2021, to an asteroid around 2025 and then beyond on a ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s – NASA’s overriding and agency wide goal. The first unmanned SLS test flight is slated for late 2018.
The core stage (first stage) of the SLS will initially be powered by four existing RS-25 engines, recycled and upgraded from the shuttle era, and a pair of five-segment solid rocket boosters that will generate a combined 8.4 million pounds of liftoff thrust, making it the world’s most powerful rocket ever.
The newly awarded RS-25 engine contract to Sacramento, California based Aerojet Rocketdyne is valued at 1.16 Billion and aims to “modernize the space shuttle heritage engine to make it more affordable and expendable for SLS,” NASA announced on Nov. 23. NASA can also procure up to six new flight worthy engines for later launches.
“SLS is America’s next generation heavy lift system,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, in a statement.
“This is the rocket that will enable humans to leave low Earth orbit and travel deeper into the solar system, eventually taking humans to Mars.”
The lead time is approximately 5 or 6 years to build and certify the first new RS-25 engine, Van Kleek told Universe Today in an interview. Therefore NASA needed to award the contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne now so that its ready when needed.
The RS-25 is actually an upgraded version of former space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) originally built by Aerojet Rocketdyne.
The reusable engines were used with a 100% success rate during NASA’s three decade-long Space Shuttle program to propel the now retired shuttle orbiters to low Earth orbit.
Those same engines are now being modified for use by the SLS on missions to deep space starting in 2018.
But NASA only has an inventory of 16 of the RS-25 engines, which is sufficient for a maximum of the first four SLS launches only. Although they were reused numerous times during the shuttle era, they will be discarded after each SLS launch.
And since the engines cannot be recovered and reused as during the shuttle era, a brand new set of RS-25s will have to be manufactured from scratch.
Therefore, the engine manufacturing process can and will be modernized and significantly streamlined – using fewer part and welds – to cut costs and improve performance.
“The RS-25 engines designed under this new contract will be expendable with significant affordability improvements over previous versions,” added Jim Paulsen, vice president, Program Execution, Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “This is due to the incorporation of new technologies, such as the introduction of simplified designs; 3-D printing technology called additive manufacturing; and streamlined manufacturing in a modern, state-of-the-art fabrication facility.”
“The new engines will incorporate simplified, yet highly reliable, designs to reduce manufacturing time and cost. For example, the overall engine is expected to simplify key components with dramatically reduced part count and number of welds. At the same time, the engine is being certified to a higher operational thrust level,” says Aerojet Rocketdyne.
The existing stock of 16 RS-25s are being upgraded for use in SLS and also being run through a grueling series of full duration hot fire test firings to certify them for flight, as I reported previously here at Universe Today.
Among the RS-25 upgrades is a new engine controller specific to SLS. The engine controller functions as the “brain” of the engine, which checks engine status, maintains communication between the vehicle and the engine and relays commands back and forth.
Each of the RS-25’s engines generates some 500,000 pounds of thrust. They are fueled by cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. For SLS they will be operating at 109% of power, compared to a routine usage of 104.5% during the shuttle era. They measure 14 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter.
They have to withstand and survive temperature extremes ranging from -423 degrees F to more than 6000 degrees F.
The maiden test flight of the SLS is targeted for no later than November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version with a liftoff thrust of 8.4 million pounds. It will boost an unmanned Orion on an approximately three week long test flight beyond the Moon and back.
NASA plans to gradually upgrade the SLS to achieve an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), enabling the more distant missions even farther into our solar system.
The first SLS test flight with the uncrewed Orion is called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and will launch from Launch Complex 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center.
Learn more about SLS, Orion, SpaceX, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, ULA Atlas rocket, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
Dec 1 to 3: “Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch to the ISS, ULA, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings
Dec 8: “America’s Human Path Back to Space and Mars with Orion, Starliner and Dragon.” Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, AAAP, Princeton University, Ivy Lane, Astrophysics Dept, Princeton, NJ; 7:30 PM.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration. Credit: NASA/MSFC
NASA also confirmed they have dropped the Saturn V white color motif of the mammoth rocket in favor of burnt orange to reflect the natural color of the SLS boosters first stage cryogenic core. The agency also decided to add stripes to the huge solid rocket boosters.
NASA announced that the Space Launch System (SLS) has “completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR)” – meaning that the design of all the rockets components are technically acceptable and the agency can continue with full scale production towards achieving a maiden liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2018.
“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division, in a NASA statement.
Blastoff of the NASA’s first SLS heavy lift booster (SLS-1) carrying an unmanned test version of NASA’s Orioncrew capsule is targeted for no later than November 2018.
SLS is “the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.”
Crews seated inside NASA’s Orion crew module bolted atop the SLS will rocket to deep space destinations including the Moon, asteroids and eventually the Red Planet.
“There have been challenges, and there will be more ahead, but this review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space,” Hill stated.
The core stage (first stage) of the SLS will be powered by four RS-25 engines and a pair of five-segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) that will generate a combined 8.4 million pounds of liftoff thrust in its inaugural Block 1 configuration, with a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability.
Overall the SLS Block 1 configuration will be some 10 percent more powerful than the Saturn V rockets that propelled astronauts to the Moon, including Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the Moon during Apollo 11 in July 1969.
The SLS core stage is derived from the huge External Tank (ET) that fueled NASA Space Shuttle’s for three decades. It is a longer version of the Shuttle ET.
NASA initially planned to paint the SLS core stage white, thereby making it resemble the Saturn V.
But since the natural manufacturing color of its insulation during fabrication is burnt orange, managers decided to keep it so and delete the white paint job.
“As part of the CDR, the program concluded the core stage of the rocket and Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter will remain orange, the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements, instead of painted white,” said NASA.
There is good reason to scrap the white color motif because roughly 1000 pounds of paint can be saved by leaving the tank with its natural orange pigment.
This translates directly into another 1000 pounds of payload carrying capability to orbit.
“Not applying the paint will reduce the vehicle mass by potentially as much as 1,000 pounds, resulting in an increase in payload capacity, and additionally streamlines production processes,” Shannon Ridinger, NASA Public Affairs spokeswomen told Universe Today.
After the first two shuttle launches back in 1981, the ETs were also not painted white for the same reason – in order to carry more cargo to orbit.
“This is similar to what was done for the external tank for the space shuttle. The space shuttle was originally painted white for the first two flights and later a technical study found painting to be unnecessary,” Ridinger explained.
NASA said that the CDR was completed by the SLS team in July and the results were also further reviewed over several more months by a panel of outside experts and additionally by top NASA managers.
“The SLS Program completed the review in July, in conjunction with a separate review by the Standing Review Board, which is composed of seasoned experts from NASA and industry who are independent of the program. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – made up of senior engineers and aerospace experts across the agency and industry – reviewed more than 1,000 SLS documents and more than 150 GB of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where SLS is managed for the agency.”
“The Standing Review Board reviewed and assessed the program’s readiness and confirmed the technical effort is on track to complete system development and meet performance requirements on budget and on schedule.”
The final step of the SLS CDR was completed this month with another extremely thorough assessment by NASA’s Agency Program Management Council, led by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot.
“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager.
The CDR was the last of four reviews that examine SLS concepts and designs.
NASA says the next step “is design certification, which will take place in 2017 after manufacturing, integration and testing is complete. The design certification will compare the actual final product to the rocket’s design. The final review, the flight readiness review, will take place just prior to the 2018 flight readiness date.”
“Our team has worked extremely hard, and we are moving forward with building this rocket. We are qualifying hardware, building structural test articles, and making real progress,” Honeycutt elaborated.
Numerous individual components of the SLS core stage have already been built and their manufacture was part of the CDR assessment.
The SLS core stage is being built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It stretches over 200 feet tall and is 27.6 feet in diameter and will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel for the rocket’s four RS-25 engines.
On Sept. 12, 2014, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveiled the world’s largest welder at Michoud, that will be used to construct the core stage, as I reported earlier during my on-site visit – here.
NASA decided that the SRBs will be painted with something like racing stripes.
“Stripes will be painted on the SRBs and we are still identifying the best process for putting them on the boosters; we have multiple options that have minimal impact to cost and payload capability, ” Ridinger stated.
With the successful completion of the CDR, the components of the first core stage can now proceed to assembly of the finished product and testing of the RS-25 engines and boosters can continue.
“We’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” Hill explained.
NASA plans to gradually upgrade the SLS to achieve an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), enabling the more distant missions even farther into our solar system.
The first SLS test flight with the uncrewed Orion is called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and will launch from Launch Complex 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The SLS/Orion stack will roll out to pad 39B atop the Mobile Launcher now under construction – as detailed in my recent story and during visit around and to the top of the ML at KSC.