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Artists rendering of SLS on launch pad  (Source: NASA)
The SLS will carry man to Mars one day and is made for the Orion crew capsule

NASA has announced the design for its new launching system for transporting astronauts out of Earth orbit to the ISS and into deep space. The new Space Launch System or SLS is designed to carry the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle and cargo (i.e. science experiments and equipment). The SLS is an advanced heavy lift vehicle that will also be used as the backup for commercial and international partner transportation to the ISS.

"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, kids today can now dream of one day walking on Mars." 

The SLS rocket will use some of the technological investment from the Space Shuttle and the Constellation programs which allows the SLS to take advantage of proven hardware and technology. This use of existing technology will allow the development and operation of the SLS to be cheaper than designing all-new technology. The space shuttle program tech that will be used include the core stage and J-2X engine for the upper stage.

The SLS will also use the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters for the initial development flights, with future follow-on booster design completed and developed based on affordability and performance requirements. The SLS will use a liquid power rocket with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The benefit of liquid engines over solid engines is that the liquid type can be shut off if needed whereas once a solid booster is lit there is no stopping. 

The launch vehicle will initially have a lift capacity of 70 metric tons and will be able to evolve to handle 130 metric tons. The SLS is designed to allow NASA to tailor the system using a modular design to support the weight launched into space.

NASA notes that the first planned development flight is set for the end of 2017.

"NASA has been making steady progress toward realizing the president's goal of deep space exploration, while doing so in a more affordable way," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver added. "We have been driving down the costs on the Space Launch System and Orion contracts by adopting new ways of doing business and project hundreds of millions of dollars of savings each year." 

MSNBC reports that the SLS will eventually be able to lift as much as 165 tons of people and gear into space. The Saturn V booster that took man to the moon could lift 130 tons by comparison.  The space shuttle, which flew its last mission in July, could only lift 27 tons into orbit and the current largest unmanned rocket can only carry 25 tons to orbit.

MSNBC also states that the downside to the program is that the SLS rockets will be
constructed specifically for each mission and the massive size will mean that they can only be built at a certain pace.

NASA pegs the cost of the program at about $3 billion yearly with total development costs adding up to $35 billion. The cost to get the SLS ready for its 2017 test launch will be $18 billion with $10 billion in rocket cost, $6 billion to the Orion capsule, and the launch pad for the SLS costing $2 billion. NASA's budget has been a major concern for future space flight in America.

Presumably, the newly minted NASA's Deep Space Missions Office will be involved with the project. 

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Great day for NASA
By MrTeal on 9/14/2011 6:09:45 PM , Rating: 4
I really hope this won't be a victim of budget cuts and cancellation in the future, this looks to be a great project going forward. It's based much more on existing technology than the Ares were, so hopefully there will be fewer overruns and delays.

And, as an amazing bonus for today only: the senate also approved funding for the JWST for a 2018 launch.

RE: Great day for NASA
By monitorjbl on 9/14/2011 6:39:14 PM , Rating: 2
Hear, hear!

RE: Great day for NASA
By danjw1 on 9/14/2011 8:06:48 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. But, I also worry that this is going to the good old boys network. Because those good old boys, don't know how to do anything without huge cost overruns and schedule slips. They are the same guys that are building all the military hardware, that always ends up not living up to cost/schedule/performance expectations.

We need new blood on this. Give the specs of what you want to SpaceX and they will give a real bid, and eat any cost overrun. Whereas Boeing, Lockhead Martin ..., will bid low, waste our money, deliver something that barely works(some of the time) and costs way more then they said it would. So, NASA, lets not go down that road this time, ok?

RE: Great day for NASA
By Manch on 9/15/2011 12:34:06 AM , Rating: 5
To be fair, you should remember a couple things when dealing with the government. The goal post is always moving. Not just farther away, but sometimes in a whole new direction.

RE: Great day for NASA
By fic2 on 9/15/2011 1:44:58 PM , Rating: 2
Gov't project budget rule of thumb - multiply by 3. That is closer to the final cost. Pretty much works with every gov't project that I have followed.

RE: Great day for NASA
By Manch on 9/17/2011 7:19:34 AM , Rating: 2
You can also apply the rule of three to how many people someone has slept with. For guys, whatever tehy say, divide by three, and for women, multiply it by three...slut.

RE: Great day for NASA
By retrospooty on 9/15/2011 8:01:33 AM , Rating: 2
"I really hope this won't be a victim of budget cuts and cancellation in the future"

Alot of people are bummed about the space shuttle program cancellation, but the reality is, that is was designed to get us into space and be cheaper and safer than rocket tech. It wound up being more expensive and alot less safe ( remember the 16 dead astronauts) - that is why it was cancelled.

RE: Great day for NASA
By MrBlastman on 9/15/2011 12:30:58 PM , Rating: 2
Safety is a side issue. Astronauts know this. They take risks that few others would or could.

The shuttle, despite being costly, captured the minds of our public, which is extremely valuable. It was also very flexible and versatile once in orbit, unlike a manned capsule. This versatility allowed it to fill a large number of roles rather than a specially-built capsule. It wasn't perfect, but it did help us separate from simple orbits to actually being able to do things in space.

I'll miss the shuttle, for sure. I want us to get to Mars, but I also would like us to develop an independent spacecraft allowing true spaceflight. The shuttle was a stepping-stone in that direction.

RE: Great day for NASA
By retrospooty on 9/15/2011 1:00:52 PM , Rating: 2
"This versatility allowed it to fill a large number of roles rather than a specially-built capsule"

This is true, but there are other plans to do all that other type stuff, there are cargo plans, and research plans - much of which is now able to be done on the ISS now.

Regardless, the shuttle was intended, and designed to be cheaper and safer than standard rocket tech ala 1960's/70's and it was neither. The only real shame of it all was that it took so long to determine that. The rest is just nostalgia.

RE: Great day for NASA
By MrTeal on 9/15/2011 2:38:53 PM , Rating: 2
I have no problem with the shuttle program. It might not haev been the best way to go, but it was executed and followed through on despite its obvious shortcomings.

What I've hated to see lately if the constantly shifting goalposts and stop-start cycles on programs in the last 20 years. It seems every time a new president enters the Oval Office there's a new vision of space exploration. Bush starts Constellation but doesn't properly fund it. Obama comes in and scraps Constellation, moving to SLS. What I don't want to see is SLS canceled in 5 years and after 8 billion has been spent because they decide there's another recession on, and we'll just wait it out and build something cheaper down the road.

RE: Great day for NASA
By rcc on 9/15/2011 4:16:07 PM , Rating: 2
From your post I gather you don't think the shuttle used rockets???

Everytime they have a new platform:
By Manch on 9/14/2011 7:32:04 PM , Rating: 5
I always think of this quote:

"You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?"


"Components. American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!"

By Black1969ta on 9/14/2011 9:32:45 PM , Rating: 2
Gotta love Armageddon!

RE: Everytime they have a new platform:
By Dradien on 9/14/2011 11:07:50 PM , Rating: 2
Must be a comfort to know that if the space program ever goes under, you can get a job at Helga's House of Pain, eh?

By Manch on 9/15/2011 12:26:34 AM , Rating: 2
lol, If there was such place I'd wonder if former space shuttle employees were now working there.

By SlightlyBurntToast on 9/15/2011 12:30:02 PM , Rating: 2
You hear a lot of talk in the media about travel beyond the Moon. The truth is, it's a very difficult problem with current technology. I worked for about 5 months with a group of 10 other senior undergrad aerospace engineering students to design a fast manned mission to Mars which would place a small reusable outpost on the surface. We looked at millions of trajectories, life support requirements including the threat of radiation and prolonged exposure to a zero gravity environment, Martian landing technologies, advanced engine technologies, optimal staging strategies, and countless other factors. To give an idea of the scale of the problem here is a summary of the mission we designed:

Launch Date: 2033
Mission time: ~450 days
Starting mission mass in LEO: 625 metric tons (500 metric tons of that was Hydrogen propellant)
Engine Technology: ~1000 ISP Nuclear Thermal Rocket (10+ years concentrated work necessary for development, chemical rockets could not meet the given requirements)
Mass landed on surface of mars: 30 metric tons (of that 12 metric tons was the ascent vehicle)
Mass returning to Earth: 65 metric tons

Technologically, humanity could travel beyond the Moon someday, but I think political and economic factors will prevent it from happening for many years. I have little experience in the field and so my opinion doesn't mean much, but if I had to guess, I would say that we won't travel beyond the moon before 2050.

By Amiga500 on 9/15/2011 2:46:04 PM , Rating: 2
Can't disagree much with that.

I think it makes sense to go to the moon - build a proper moon base, which is capable of developing hydrogen from the helium 3/water there.

As an added bonus, H3 can be ferried back to earth, for use in fusion plants. Or ferried back to geostationary power generation satellites that beam the power down to earth.

By delphinus100 on 9/15/2011 9:26:49 PM , Rating: 2
As an added bonus, H3 can be ferried back to earth, for use in fusion plants.

Um, what fusion plants?

Until there are commercial fusion reactors that can use the stuff, there's no market. It's like having gasoline in 1870 or so. Yeah, one day there might be major uses for it, but until then...

By Amiga500 on 9/17/2011 11:25:28 AM , Rating: 2
Erm. They aren't going to the moon tomorrow, or the day after. ;-)

Project your timescales and then consider it. :-)

Not space shuttle technology...
By deepThought on 9/14/2011 7:16:07 PM , Rating: 2
"The space shuttle program tech that will be used include the core stage and J-2X engine for the upper stage."

The J-2X engine is definitely not space shuttle technology. It could be described as evolved Apollo technology.

By delphinus100 on 9/14/2011 8:07:43 PM , Rating: 2
And the only reason it was developed for the Ares-I is that it proved impractical to make an upper-stage, air startable version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, their original choice.

So, they went to the lower performing J-2X,and to make up the difference, a fifth SRB segment, reducing the Orion diameter from 5.5 to 5 meters, lowering its structural weight, and removing some of the intended systems, most notably the airbags for landing on land.

Pipe dreams
By Alchemy69 on 9/14/2011 7:37:33 PM , Rating: 2
By the time congress approve the funding for this it will be so stripped back that it will be a skyrocket in a large glass bottle.

Anyone remember was the ISS was supposed to be like when it was first proposed and the white elephant that we actually ended up with?

RE: Pipe dreams
By Gondor on 9/15/2011 3:43:08 AM , Rating: 2
Or perhaps it's going to be the other way around - no project has actually made it within anticipated budget, they all grew by a factor of few hundred per cent. 35 billion times how many ? :-)

By WinstonSmith on 9/15/2011 9:05:42 AM , Rating: 2
Another _HUGE_ waste of money, money that NASA could spend much more productively elsewhere, for a rocket that even NASA didn't want. Politics is the only reason it exists:

“The rocket and capsule that NASA is proposing to return astronauts to the moon would fly just twice in the next 10 years and cost as much as $38 billion, according to internal NASA documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. The money would pay for a new heavy-lift rocket and Apollo-like crew capsule that eventually could take astronauts to the moon and beyond. But it would not be enough to pay for a lunar landing — or for more than one manned test flight, in 2021. That timeline and price tag could pose serious problems for supporters of the new spacecraft, which is being built from recycled parts of the shuttle and the now-defunct Constellation moon program…"

Not overly impressed...
By Amiga500 on 9/15/2011 10:21:13 AM , Rating: 2
The Soviet Energia rocket could put 100 tonnes into LEO.

A variant the Vulkan-Hercules was supposedly going to be capable of putting 175 tonnes into LEO.

I think if they are looking at moon bases and Mars, these (175) are the kind of figures we will need to be talking about. Not half of that.

Sure, its a step forward from the shuttle... but then again, what isn't. The shuttle was only really meant for satellite deploy/retrieve and a bit of science on the side. When it was originally in gestation (1970s), it was not considered the vanguard of space exploration - but more of orbital exploitation.

Appalling political decision
By Bubbacub on 9/15/2011 2:18:32 PM , Rating: 1
There is no need for this rocket other than to maintain employment for workers in certain senator's states.

NASA has 4 heavy lift launch systems at its disposal [1] (and has green lit a 5th in the Liberty concept).

We have a presence in LEO. A deep space vehicle can be safely constructed in LEO.

2 falcon 9 heavy rockets can chuck up a 100 tonnes worth of space ship and fuel for a quarter of a billion according to space x. and i trust space x's cost projections a hundred times more than nasas.

how many SLS launches are there going to be? there were 13 apollo rockets. lets be generous say there will be 20 SLS launches over the next 30 years. The total cost of developing this pork barrel monstrosity and building these rockets is a tiny fraction of the cost of 40 falcon 9 heavy rockets.

makes me livid when ignorant asshole politicians micro manage engineering projects they dont understand

[1] delta 4, atlas v, falcon 9, ariane V

Yeah, sure
By thisisaname on 9/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: Yeah, sure
By WeaselITB on 9/14/2011 6:48:03 PM , Rating: 5

Let's compare:
FY2011 NASA Budget: ~$19b (1)
FY2011 DoD Budget for Iraq and Afghanistan: ~$159b (2)
FY2011 Health & Human Services: ~$900b (3)

NASA's "fat" budget is NOT what is sinking this country ...


RE: Yeah, sure
By Spuke on 9/15/2011 9:37:08 AM , Rating: 2
Great research! That's how you do it!

RE: Yeah, sure
By TSS on 9/14/2011 7:17:40 PM , Rating: 2

Look at the graphs on that page and tell me again NASA is the "fat" causing the budget to be bloated. Can you spot the real culprit?

Obvious troll is Obvious.

RE: Yeah, sure
By Ringold on 9/14/2011 7:22:16 PM , Rating: 2
DT ate my first response.. so I'll be brief..

OP raised good points in that NASA rivals the military in its ability to waste money, or to get less than what one would think, and definitely seem to be unable to get its major historical suppliers to compete with the same innovation and ferocity as some upstart firms do. I think what some of those 'New Space' or whatever firms are doing proves to us all this much is true. They're running circles around LockMart and Boeing at warp 9.

That said, I think a lot of us here would have a different policy prescription.. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, I'd rather couple massive reform with a tripling of the budget, not a budget cut. :P

RE: Yeah, sure
By thisisaname on 9/14/2011 11:20:47 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, I was only saying that with NASA as of late, there has been very little return on investment. The innovation, vision of the old NASA is simply lacking today. All these promises to go to Mars, go back to the moon that we've heard for many years, all yield absolutely nothing. Every year at the time to re-evaluate the budget for NASA we hear them.
We've ditched the shuttle in favor of, guess what, caspules of the 1960's. That's not a step forward, but a step back, of 50 years! NASA plans to dump the ISS into the ocean in 5 years. Billions of dollars just to dump it. That isn't waste?
Since this article is about NASA, I simply commented that the American budget needs to be trimmed, and that I think it should start with NASA. Yes it pales in comparison to the two wars we are fighting, and perhaps I shouldn't have said that NASA is "the biggest waste of money ever", poor choice of words.

RE: Yeah, sure
By kleinma on 9/15/2011 10:56:53 AM , Rating: 2
That is because they start pumping money and research into projects that get cancelled every 4 or 8 years when we get a new president in office who decides to totally change the direction of the space program.

Nasa also does a LOT more than just send rockets into space, their budget is stretched over many different research fields.

All you people calling for NASA to get its budget axed, if that happens, I hope you all known how to speak chinese well...

RE: Yeah, sure
By rlandess on 9/15/2011 10:59:49 AM , Rating: 2
You're dead wrong when you say we're making a step back in progress. The shuttle has always been a mistake in that it is more expensive to use because of the high cost of maintenance. We never really use it to it's full potential, we just treat it like a cargo ship. We can launch heavy lift rockets for less than the cost of the shuttle program.

Maybe dumping the ISS is a mistake. It has had delays and cost overruns and other countries have failed to fulfill their duties to it. 5 years is the scheduled decommission as I understand it and if there is nothing else to be gained from it then we should drop in the ocean or at least pull out of it.

Going to the moon and mars only make sense if we have goals that require human hands to complete. What is it that we need to do on mars that justifies the expense? If we want to make headway in space exploration then we have to set goals and make investments that lead to a return, because half of our country doesn't give a **** about science. If we say there's a solid gold asteroid floating between Mars and Jupiter then those same people would be glad to mortgage their house to buy in.

RE: Yeah, sure
By Bubbacub on 9/15/2011 2:08:16 PM , Rating: 2
the shuttle was a mistake the moment they cancelled the reusable first stage (and built expensive effectively nonreusable SRBs and expendable fuel tanks) and went with ceramic tiles for TPS (the original design called for development of a new composite TPS).

these political decisions resulted in the deaths of 14 astronauts and ended up costing the taxpayer many times over what was saved.

if the original design had been made - maybe another 5 years later and few billion over budget the savings in terms of lives and cash over 30 years would have made up for it.

moral of the story - dont let retarded near sighted nepotistic politicians make engineering decisions.

RE: Yeah, sure
By Futureriff on 9/15/2011 10:25:12 PM , Rating: 2
Here's an idea from left field:

Rather than dump the ISS into the ocean why not use as much of it as we can to build a spaceship capable of travelling to Mars?

After all it is up in space already and that would remove a lot of design constraints based around having to lift any spaceship components off the ground, given that there would have to be some construction carried out in space. Such a ship would be capable of carrying a good-sized crew and all the supplies needed and it should be able to be reconfigured into an appropriate mission configuration given that it has a modular design.

Maybe that cost-cutting design decision to build it in stages is a blessing in disguise.

RE: Yeah, sure
By mac2j on 9/16/2011 1:08:23 PM , Rating: 2
I totally agree - if anyone had an innovative bone in their body in US Space anymore we'd be looking to repurpose the ISS as an orbital construction platform or just filling it with supplies and then pushing it to the moon or mars to act as a future staging base.

Also - if anyone had any sack like the Soviets did we'd be developing nuclear rockets. Still by far the best means within our current technological boundaries to travel to deep space.

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