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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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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. :-)

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