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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???

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