For those still mourning the end of the shuttle program, there’s a new reason to be excited about space exploration: It’s called SLS.
NASA is ready to move forward with the development of the Space Launch System. The Space Launch System is an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.
There’s talk of going to an asteroid, and eventually Mars. The Space Launch System will give us a safe, at a cost of 18 billion dollars over the next six years, 10 billion for the rocket, 6 billion for the capsule, and 2 billion to build everything at the Kennedy space center. This is costly, and sustainable, but if it means reaching beyond our current limits and opening up new discoveries from the unique vantage point of space then why not?
The Space Launch System, or SLS, will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. This rocket is very hi-tech because it has re-usable parts that include side booster, and the capsule that will take the astronauts where ever they go the only thing for sure that won’t be reusable is the external fuel tank. Also Studies have shown that it is 10 times more survivable to put the astronauts in the top than the sides, or anywhere else, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth’s orbit and destinations beyond.
Additionally, the SLS will serve as a back up for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station. The SLS rocket will incorporate technological investments from the Space Shuttle Program and the Constellation Program in order to take advantage of proven hardware and cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology that will significantly reduce development and operations costs. It will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle Program for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage. SLS will also use solid rocket boosters for the initial development flights, while follow-on boosters will be competed based on performance requirements and affordability considerations.
The SLS will have an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons. That’s more than 154,000 pounds, or 77 tons, roughly the weight of 40 sport utility vehicles. The lift capacity will be evolvable to 130 metric tons -more than 286,000 pounds, or 143 tons — enough to lift 75 SUVs. During a press conference, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson said “This rocket will insure that NASA will stay the leader in space exploration”. The first developmental flight, or mission, is targeted for the end of 2017.
This specific architecture was selected, largely because it utilizes an evolvable development approach, which allows NASA to address high-cost development activities early on in the program and take advantage of higher buying power before inflation erodes the available funding of a fixed budget. This architecture also enables NASA to leverage existing capabilities and lower development costs by using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for both the core and upper stages. Additionally, this architecture provides a modular launch vehicle that can be configured for specific mission needs using a variation of common elements.
NASA may not need to lift 130 metric tons for each mission and the flexibility of this modular architecture allows the agency to use different core stage, upper stage, and first-stage booster combinations to achieve the most efficient launch vehicle for the desired mission. The SLS is 320 ft tall and weights 5.5 million pounds. The evolved SLS is the length of a foot ball field, weights 6.5 million pounds, and can carry 9 school buses!
This rocket is a giant milestone to the United States, and the world, but we will never actually know the real performance of this rocket just yet, we will just have to wait for the right moment and the right time to see what it can really do.
By: Miguel Puentes and Gabriel Akessler