Space Launch System passes major agency review, moves to preliminary design

July 26, 2012 by Trent J. Perrotto
An artist rendering of the various configurations of NASA's Space Launch System. (NASA)

( -- The rocket that will launch humans farther into space than ever before passed a major NASA review Wednesday. The Space Launch System (SLS) Program completed a combined System Requirements Review and System Definition Review, which set requirements of the overall launch vehicle system. SLS now moves ahead to its preliminary design phase.

The SLS will NASA's Orion spacecraft and other payloads, and provide an entirely new capability for beyond low Earth orbit.

These NASA reviews set technical, performance, cost and schedule requirements to provide on-time development of the heavy-lift rocket. As part of the process, an independent review board comprised of technical experts from across NASA evaluated SLS Program documents describing vehicle specifications, budget and schedule. The board confirmed SLS is ready to move from concept development to preliminary design.

An expanded view of an artist rendering of the 70-metric-ton configuration of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Launching astronauts on board the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, this vehicle will enable humans to explore our solar system farther than ever before, supporting travel to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other deep space destinations. NASA plans to launch an uncrewed test flight of this configuration in 2017. Image credit: NASA

"This new heavy-lift will make it possible for explorers to reach beyond our current limits, to nearby asteroids, Mars and its moons, and to destinations even farther across our solar system," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The in-depth assessment confirmed the basic vehicle concepts of the SLS, allowing the team to move forward and start more detailed engineering design."

The reviews also confirmed the SLS system architecture and integration with the , managed by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, which manage the operations and launch facilities at NASA's in Florida.

An expanded view of an artist rendering of the 130-metric-ton configuration of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., shows the many different elements of the rocket design. Used primarily to launch heavy cargo, this two-stage vehicle will be the largest rocket ever built and will enable exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit, supporting travel to asteroids, Mars and other deep space destinations. Image credit: NASA

"This is a pivotal moment for this program and for NASA," said SLS Program Manager Todd May. "This has been a whirlwind experience from a design standpoint. Reaching this key development point in such a short period of time, while following the strict protocol and design standards set by NASA for human spaceflight is a testament to the team's commitment to delivering the nation's next heavy-lift launch vehicle."

SLS reached this major milestone less than 10 months after the program's inception. The combination of the two assessments represents a fundamentally different way of conducting NASA program reviews. The SLS team is streamlining processes to provide the nation with a safe, affordable and sustainable heavy-lift launch vehicle capability. The next major program milestone is preliminary design review, targeted for late next year.

The first test flight of NASA's Space , which will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity, is scheduled for 2017. As SLS evolves, a three-stage launch vehicle configuration will provide a lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions beyond and support deep space exploration.

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4 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2012
Congratulations NASA, keep up the good work. Wish we could float you a bit more funding, however, keep getting the most out of what you do have to work with.
3.3 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2012
Wait a second. They cancelled Constellation, which was supposed to launch Orion in favor of private companies providing launch capability. Is this SLS a replacement for Constellation? Are we back in the booster building business? What about our 'commitment' to private industry? And how much money and time did they lose canceling one project just to start up another?
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 26, 2012
It barely lifts more then the falcon heavy, and will cost us billions to just build a prototype. We could instead book Falcon heavy launches for probably less then it cost to launch this thing without the capital investment at the government level.

For the capital investment in this they could probably do the better part of a double digit colonization on any body in our local neighborhood by renting a Falcon heavy...
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 26, 2012
America should just continue to purchase launch services from the Russians and the Europeans.

It is cheaper and doesn't require any heavy thinking.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2012
Designing the SLS to human-rating is an enormous waste to resources and totally unnecessary. Within three years, there will be four commercial options for getting people to LEO, at prices that will be 1/4 to 1/10th NASA's costs. The SLS would have its uses, but launching people in a 130t vessel makes no sense.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 26, 2012
All NASA had to do was build another Saturn V. But make it new and shiny. And make sure 20,000 scientists and engineers continue to be employed even if nothing ever gets launched.

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy at work.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2012
When did political spending of money on products and services of "questionable value" start surprising people again?

That said, it may not be the most effective spending of money, but the more people in this country tackling these kinds of projects and gaining experience and competing with each other the better it is for our future prospects of becoming a 2-body species.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2012
70 tons to LEO? It would probably be cheaper to revive the Soviet all-kerosene N-1, same payload and no troublesome cryogenic fuel.
130 tons?
Saturn 5 could do 127 tons.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 27, 2012
Within three years, there will be four commercial options for getting people to LEO, at prices that will be 1/4 to 1/10th NASA's costs. The SLS would have its uses, but launching people in a 130t vessel makes no sense

I think there's a place for both. NASA should be developing technology and doing early adopter experiments, so the private sector can make use of it later. NASA can create the tools and prove the concepts, then private business can make them better and figure out ways to do it cheaply. There are many instances of this in our economy already. The partnerships between universities and business is a good example. There is an obvious benefit to our country (and the world) from advanced research and development through public-private partnerships. A healthy mix of both is a good solution.
5 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2012
All NASA had to do was build another Saturn V. But make it new and shiny

That's kinda what they are doing, only better. The Saturn V wasn't built with expansion and upgrade in mind. The new system is being designed with a completely different paradigm; with modular design and universal standard interfaces, even creating new standards where none exist yet. Keep in mind that a lot of the work will still be done by private contractors. NASA contracts out to a TON of private companies.
5 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2012
Are you people on here to only look for things to complain about?

This is a huge advancement in rocketry. It will allow for individual parts to be replaced without an entire redesign. Kinda like how you like to be able to upgrade the hardware in a computer without scrapping the whole thing?

This is takes it away from custom manufacture to more of a mass manufacture approach. This will see short term returns in savings that could easily exceed the cost of the project.

Also those saying that there are other cheaper alternatives. The foreign option isn't a good idea for a country trying to stabilize its economy. Even if it costs ten times more to do it in house, they should. Most of the money will pass hands a dozen times and see itself back in the government coffers ready to fund the next project. Or would you rather that money be in the Russian treasury? American jobs or Russian jobs?

It's bad business to spend your money in places you will not likely see it return from.

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