NASA today unveiled it’s next generation of launchers. The Space launch system (SLS) will use a liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel accompanied with two solid rocket boosters used by the Space shuttle and the next generation of smaller launchers such as the Liberty system.
The system is designed for operations beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and will be used to carry crews to a nearby asteroid and onto Mars.
NASA has clearly put the lessons learned by Apollo and the Shuttle programme and the fact the hardware is already in existence (SRB’s were put into storage as was the SSME’s once the shuttles retired) means that the first test flight is expected in late 2017.
The initial design calls for the SLS to be able to put 70 tonnes in a low-Earth orbit with 130 tonnes is the eventual target.This huge lift capability is necessary to put all the equipment in orbit that is needed to undertake a deep-space mission. This would consist of not only the Orion capsule but perhaps a habitation module and a landing craft to go down to the surface of another planetary body.
The announcement follows the news earlier in the day that NASA has signed a deal with Alliant TechSystems to consult on the design and development of the “liberty” rocket for Low earth orbit that combines a Shuttle solid rocket booster and the 2nd stage used on the current Ariane family of launchers.
Since this was published shortly after the initial anouncement it is devoid of any stats, so here they are.
The programme will cost $18 billion until 2017, broken down into $10bn for the actual launcher, $6bn for the crew capsule and another $2bn for the infrastructure (New launch complexes, crawlers and other ground facilities.)
Not surprisingly the news of this rocket hasn’t gone down well with the special interest groups focusing on Private spaceflight. Many slamming the price tag associated with the system. However this in my opinion seems to fuel this belief that NASA swallows up a whopping percentage of the US budget and not the 0.5%-1% the budget allocates to NASA. Even adjusted to the current rate the cost of Apollo was around $83bn for the development of the Saturn booster alone.
For comparison the total cost for the US navy’s new Gerald Ford class amounts to $14bn including unit cost and Research and development. Bearing in mind the unit cost for a carrier is $9bn, $18bn for a new launcher with the potential to send man to other worlds seems a better investment than a sleek grey bringer of death.