WASHINGTON — NASA has selected six proposals to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for the Space Launch System (SLS). The awardees will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for SLS, a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
“The initial SLS heavy-lift rocket begins with the proven hardware, technology and capabilities we have today and will evolve over time to a more capable launch vehicle through competitive opportunities,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While the SLS team is making swift progress on the initial configuration and building a solid baseline, we also are looking ahead to enhance and upgrade future configurations of the heavy lift vehicle. We want to build a system that will be upgradable and used for decades.”
Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft, including NASA’s Orion multipurpose vehicle, for crew and cargo missions SLS will enable NASA to meet the president’s goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. The initial SLS configuration will use two five-segment solid rocket boosters similar to the solid rocket boosters that helped power the space shuttle to orbit. The evolved SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with significant increase in thrust from any existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters.
Individual awards will vary with a total NASA investment of as much as $200 million.
Proposals selected for contract negotiations are:
— “Subscale Composite Tank Set,” Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation Aerospace Systems
— “Full-Scale Combustion Stability Demonstration,” Aerojet General Corp.
— “F-1 Engine Risk Reduction Task,” Dynetics Inc.
— “Main Propulsion System Risk Reduction Task,” Dynetics Inc.
— “Structures Risk Reduction Task,” Dynetics Inc.
— “Integrated Booster Static Test,” ATK Launch Systems Inc.
“We are building a new national capability to carry astronauts and science experiments beyond Earth orbit to new destinations in space,” said Todd May, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “Our industry partners have presented a variety of options for reducing risk while increasing performance and affordability, and we’re looking forward to seeing their innovative ideas come to life.”
The proposal selections are the first step in the NASA Research Announcement procurement process. The second step, the formal contract award, will follow after further negotiations between NASA and selected organizations. All funded efforts will demonstrate and examine advanced booster concepts and hardware demonstrations during a 30-month period. This risk mitigation acquisition precedes the follow-on design, development, testing and evaluation competition for the SLS advanced booster currently planned for 2015.
All proposals will be valid for 12 months to allow for a later award should the opportunity become available, unless withdrawn by the offeror prior to award. Successful offerors to this NRA are not guaranteed an award for any future advanced booster acquisition.
The first test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, which will feature a configuration for a 77-ton (70-metric-ton) lift capacity, is scheduled for 2017. As SLS evolves, a two-stage launch vehicle configuration will provide a lift capability of 143 tons (130 metric tons).
RELEASE : 12-234
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The SLS represents a question that no one should be asking. It is another large candle for one-time missions that will occur, if it ever flies, at great expense and with poor reliability. This thing will end up boosting people into missions while it is still wet behind the ears, so to speak, and it has many of the elements that made the shuttle dangerous.
First, there is the tractor mode escape system that must be discarded in flight at some risk to what it is supposed to protect, and second, there are the SRB’s that represent light-once candles that cannot be controlled adequately once lit. It is hard to believe that we are still to use SRB’s for a manned rocket.
Then, there is the overweight and under-capable Orion, that has already cost billions and represents no great advance in any direction. The SpaceX capsule carries more people and can withstand as great a re-entry velocity as the Orion, all at a fraction of the cost of the Orion.
And then we come to the joker at the heart of this mangled and dilapidated deck of cards, the SLS itself as a concept. We don’t need it, and certainly not at the projected costs. The F9 Heavy can put more than the maximum weight of the SLS of the future for far less money, albeit in 2-3 flights. But, there is nothing wrong with that. We need to build the ability to assemble missions on orbit, where the vast majority of the payload can be boosted dry and then fueled for a mission. Such a technique will allow for far more robust missions at far less cost with far less chance of failure due to extreme effects to reduce launch weight. Unfueled mission hardware is far less likely to suffer damage on boost. With the flexibility of assembly on orbit, failure of any element of a mission to reach orbit will not necessarily mean the end of the mission…only delay in waiting for a replacement. If the SLS with it’s current mission designs fails, then the whole mission is lost, possibly disastrously.
Then, there is the whole issue of re-useability. How much longer are we going to throw away expensive launch vehicles, expecting that the cost per kilogram to orbit will somehow decrease on it’s own..
“For changes to be of any true value, they have to be lasting and consistent.” – Tony Robbins