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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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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.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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