NASA unveils powerful new rocket system

Since we are all bored to tears with the “Climate Reality Project” I figure If I don’t want WUWT’s ship to go down with Gore’s I had better provide something interesting to read. This fits the bill nicely as it’s the first positive new thing I’ve seen out of NASA’s space program this year.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth’s orbit and destinations beyond. Additionally, the SLS will serve as a back up for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station.

The SLS rocket will incorporate technological investments from the Space Shuttle program and the Constellation program in order to take advantage of proven hardware and cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology that will significantly reduce development and operations costs. It will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle program for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage. SLS will also use solid rocket boosters for the initial development flights, while follow-on boosters will be competed based on performance requirements and affordability considerations. The SLS will have an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons (mT) and will be evolvable to 130 mT. The first developmental flight, or mission, is targeted for the end of 2017.

The Space Launch System will be NASA’s first exploration-class vehicle since the Saturn V took American astronauts to the moon over 40 years ago. With its superior lift capability, the SLS will expand our reach in the solar system and allow us to explore cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and its moons and beyond. We will learn more about how the solar system formed, where Earth’ water and organics originated and how life might be sustained in places far from our Earth’s atmosphere and expand the boundaries of human exploration. These discoveries will change the way we understand ourselves, our planet, and its place in the universe.

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Jay Currie
September 14, 2011 9:36 pm

Hmmm…what’s the carbon footprint?

September 14, 2011 9:39 pm

Go read some space blogs like . You find us space cookies less than enamoured of another NASA waste of time, engineering talent and money.
The damn thing will cost heaps, fly infrequently and be unaffordable to operate, consequently exploitation of the rest of the universe will be setback. Fortunately NASA isn’t the only game in town.

David Davidovics
September 14, 2011 9:44 pm

Seems to me they just integrated the shuttle into the hydrogen fuel tank. Pop an engine on the bottom of the tank and a crew/cargo module on the top and presto, you’re done! (/sarc) Half a century after the moon landings and this is what they come up with?

September 14, 2011 9:46 pm

6 years…a long time w/out a man-rated heavy lift vehicle.

September 14, 2011 9:48 pm

Thanks for this Anthony. A much needed distraction. 30 minutes into the Goreathon I had a full bucket and empty stomach.

Stephen Singer
September 14, 2011 9:51 pm

First test flight not till 2017, six years from now. First manned mission not till 2021, ten years from now. Why bother the Russians and Chinese will be so far ahead of us by then. We did the old Saturn rocket for the moon mission in what 3-4 years. Maybe we should just wait and buy cheap rockets from the Chinese in four or five years.

Leon Brozyna
September 14, 2011 10:07 pm

Poor NASA … caught between a rockk and a hard place. And what can they expect from the new administration that comes to office in 2013? What kind of changes will they go through again?

September 14, 2011 10:20 pm

SpaceX plans to have a slightly smaller launch vehicle (53 metric tons to LEO), the Falcon 9 Heavy, ready to fly in 2013. That will be 4 years earlier than this new NASA shuttle follow-on. SpaceX is advertising a total launch cost (including the vehicle) of $80M – $125M. (I wonder if NASA can even pay their electric bill for this cost.)
As an experienced aerospace engineer, I have seen this particular rocket stack configuration proposed many times. Some of these proposals were made as early as the 1980’s. However, NASA has always seen fit to withdrawal their support every time. What will be different this time? If history is our guide, nothing.

September 14, 2011 10:29 pm

Spacex could be launching people in two years, if given the funding.
The Dragon will be flying by the ISS this year, and another mission will resupply by docking either later this year or early 2012.

September 14, 2011 10:36 pm

[sigh] Five decades into the Space Age. Well into the 21st century.
And NASA still can’t do any better than Apollo v2.0.

September 14, 2011 10:37 pm

Just did some searching, and it seems that the flyby and first docking missions have been combined, and will take place Nov. 31, 2011, if the schedule holds.

Neil Jones
September 14, 2011 10:37 pm

Looks like a Saturn V recycled

September 14, 2011 10:40 pm

Quick correction: I should have said, “I have seen very similar rocket stack configurations proposed many times.” I did not mean to imply this exact configuration. Each previously proposed configuration was “slightly” different.

September 14, 2011 10:50 pm

This looks remarkably like the Mars Direct launch vehicle imagined by Bob Zubrin back in the 1990s… Glad to see NASA is being innovative….

September 14, 2011 11:00 pm

I still am not comfortable with those multi-section SRBs. They are still prone to gas leak at the joints and if the leak is facing the main booster, are a potential catastrophic failure mode.
I prefer the SpaceX approach.

September 14, 2011 11:05 pm

With over $2 billion slotted in for climate science, I’m surprised they even have enough left to develop a new soda bottle rocket.

September 14, 2011 11:08 pm

Why don’t they build a shuttle that can make it to the moon with the capacity to land and takeoff again from a runway (built robotically ahead of time).

September 14, 2011 11:18 pm

Oh, another NASA simulation… goody!

September 14, 2011 11:19 pm

Enough with these “new” proposals. Just build the f************** thing!!!!! On past performance it’ll be canceled by next President or ready by 2023 having costed three times more than expected.

September 14, 2011 11:27 pm

MrV says: September 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm
Why don’t they build a shuttle that can make it to the moon with the capacity to land and takeoff again from a runway (built robotically ahead of time).

[blink] You’re… kidding?
(If not, think “no lunar atmosphere to speak of” and take it from there.)

Dave Wendt
September 14, 2011 11:51 pm

If the Saturn V could be considered as the Ford Model T of space flight, given the hundreds of billions that has been ratholed on NASA over the decades and the extra decade lead time on this project, they ought to be offering the equivalent of Ferrari 458 Italia, Instead it looks like they still haven’t made it to the Flathead V-8.

Brian H
September 15, 2011 12:09 am

I’m not sure the Orion will ever fly; AFAIK it’s been scrubbed, $1.6 billion in. (That’s twice the cost of SpaceX’s total expenditures since the founding of the company, including orbit and de-orbit of the Dragon, which is arguably better than the Orion anyway.)

September 15, 2011 12:15 am

NASA Rockets are the ultimate waste of time.
After the nuclear bomb, the Manhattan Scientists designed and partly tested a space drive so powerful, it could have lifted thousands, or even millions of tons, into orbit, for a few dimes per kilo.
The best design for the space drive had a theoretical top speed of 10% of the speed of light – all this with 1950s technology!
Nowdays, noone even remembers it.

September 15, 2011 12:33 am

The Saturn V cannot be considered the space equivalent of the Ford Model T. The Model T was the first low-cost, factory-line mass-produced car, that was available in plentiful supply to the public. NASA has NEVER had a space craft that can even come close to meeting these traits. All NASA vehicles are produced as extremely expensive, one-at-a-time custom-built labor-intensive machines.
About the closest rocket we have to the Model T currently are the SpaceX vehicles. And they are not yet readily available (i.e., accessible) to a large portion of the public.
Sorry to be so negative, but I believe that we are still in the automotive equivalent of the late 1800’s with respect to our launch vehicle development maturity.

Tony Moore
September 15, 2011 12:38 am

What ever happened to HOTOL. I know it had a smaller payload but it took off and landed horizontally and was completely recoverable.
wiki entry

September 15, 2011 1:34 am

This is a bad joke. The first test flight is due for 2017 and the first manned mission will be 2021. And we all know NASA can not deliver missions like this on time, so it`s unlikely we`ll see a manned flight before 2025 at best. What`s the point of even bothering ? The US space industry might as well just close up shop. Good one Obama, add the US space industry to the list of great US achievements you`ve destroyed.

Don K
September 15, 2011 1:37 am

What do we need this thing for? Will it tell us things about the Moon, Mars, the Solar System, Earth that we do not know? Humans are not designed to operate in space, and the logistics of putting them there and keeping them alive are huge. The cost of life support and safety is horrendous and the return in knowledge is small. Not cost effective
Skylab — half a century ago — looked at most of the things humans might do in space and pretty well established that there is little real need for humans in space. Not none. We do need the capability to put a human into LEO for a few hours or days every now and then. But aren’t Soyuz and perhaps Space-X (which will presumably be late and over budget, but still a lot more cost effective than this) or a modified X-37B adequate for our real needs?
My position: Forget high-cost, low reward programs like the Shuttle, the ISS, and this thing. Spend more on unmanned research platforms than we do now. Spend some money on manned ocean exploration. We know remarkably little about the two thirds of the planet covered by salt water. Entry costs for manned ocean exploration are much lower than space and it will give those silly souls who need flags waving and trumpets sounding to spice up their science a bit of soap opera to follow.

September 15, 2011 1:57 am

NASA is in desperate need to be privatized. I’ve had it with this centrally planned, political power point driven insanity. USA is bankrupt, thanks is large part to the BS conditioning that nothing of consequence can happen without government direction. Look around at where that thinking has brought the country. NASA is currently the biggest waste of engineering talent on the planet. Set them free.

charles nelson
September 15, 2011 2:55 am

Wow, in terms of launch capacity this will take Nasa up to where the Soviets were!

charles nelson
September 15, 2011 2:56 am

It’s like “Back to the Future” without the laughs.

Bloke down the pub
September 15, 2011 3:44 am

Tony Moore says:
September 15, 2011 at 12:38 am
What ever happened to HOTOL
Google Skylon

September 15, 2011 4:03 am

Nope, nothing positive about this. It’s a return to the old Cold War competition except the Russians are no longer playing. We’re shouting “My rocket is longer than yours!!! Nyah nyah nyah!!!” but nobody is listening.
If NASA wanted to do something positive, they would work hard on ways to move sticky jet streams, to break up persistent high/low patterns. That’s the problem we need to solve.
Won’t happen, because the result of that research would benefit humanity. And that’s obviously prohibited by NASA’s prime directives.

September 15, 2011 4:23 am

As a retired NASA Project Scientist, Project Manager for Space Shuttle and Space Station science hardware, I share the pessimism expressed by some here.
Based on my personal experience, at NASA, most of the civil-service men and women doing the day-to-day Science, Engineering, and support are excellent. “Its the questionable management, stupid” — to parallel an old quote — and the fact that the “big” projects are highly politicized (in almost every respect) at the expense of practical success.

Robert Schapiro
September 15, 2011 4:29 am

The rounded top of the rocket looks exactly like the spires of a mosque. A perfect design in the age of the NASA Muslim outreach program.

Dodgy Geezer
September 15, 2011 5:04 am

It would be interesting to compare this with what the Russians, Chinese and Indians are doing…

Dave Springer
September 15, 2011 5:34 am

I fail to see anything new or innovative in the SLS project. The title should read
“NASA re-assembles mothballed technologies into new vision-free launch system”.
NASA should be building a space elevator and/or a single stage to orbit reusable launch vehicle. There is nothing ground breaking in this SLS system. It’s basically playing catchup with the Russkies who never abandoned their traditional heavy launch system.

September 15, 2011 6:15 am

Hadn’t NASA already test flown a heavy launch system that cost several billions of dollars? It is/was called Ares, and would likely have been, or would soon be, flying to the moon, as per the requests from President Bush a long time ago. What happens to this new, new launch system when the Obamatron is tossed from office in 14 months? Back to square one again?
Privatise NASA!

Mr Lynn
September 15, 2011 6:24 am

Don K says:
September 15, 2011 at 1:37 am
What do we need this thing for? Will it tell us things about the Moon, Mars, the Solar System, Earth that we do not know? Humans are not designed to operate in space, and the logistics of putting them there and keeping them alive are huge. The cost of life support and safety is horrendous and the return in knowledge is small. Not cost effective. . .

Humans “are not designed to operate” anywhere outside of the equatorial zones of Africa, but here we are, all over this planet. Barring catastrophic self-destruction, or socio-political paralysis, the future of mankind is towards the rest of the Solar System, and eventually to the stars. This is why the ISS is so important: it is teaching us what we need to know about living and working for long periods in space: baby steps at this point, but a start on the great journey ahead of our species.
Bloke down the pub: I had not heard about Skylon. Fascinating!
A heat-exchanger that can convert incoming atmospheric oxygen to LOX literally “on the fly” is an amazing development. I have long thought that the cheapest way to LEO was to launch from a high altitude aircraft, rather than bootstrapping up from the ground on a wingless torch.
/Mr Lynn

G. Karst
September 15, 2011 7:08 am

This will probably translate to a decade without any heavy lift capability. What kind of long range planning is that? Shameful!
Decreasing (absence?) technology perceived as advancement. George would not approve. GK

September 15, 2011 7:31 am

ggm says: September 15, 2011 at 1:34 am
Uh, no. This stupid monster rocket is the work of the porkers who have NASA centers in their states and districts. Obama’s FY2011 NASA budget was the best thing for HSF and true tech development ever released by an administration. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the weight to see it through, especially in the face of HUGE lobbying efforts by entrenched aerospace contractors.
I don’t mind blaming Obama for the things he’s massively screwed up, but NASA isn’t one of them.

September 15, 2011 7:37 am

TrueNorthist says: “…flying to the moon, as per the requests from President Bush a long time ago.”
Actually, the path suggested by this adminstration was amazingly similar to the VSE announced by GW Bush. It was Mike Griffin who ignored almost ALL of this document and gave us Area and Constellation. Again, big stupid rockets that we don’t need in order to return to the moon, but make great do-nothing-jobs-projects for aerospace contractors and senate porkers.
Oh well.

J. Bob
September 15, 2011 7:47 am

Looks like they digitized von Braun’s Saturn V (1950’s-60’s) system.. I wonder if they kept the slide rules also?

ferd berple
September 15, 2011 7:57 am

Dave Wendt says:
September 14, 2011 at 11:51 pm
If the Saturn V could be considered as the Ford Model T of space flight,
The Saturn V could lift 118 tons to LEO. The shuttle, 24 tons. This new proposed SLS, 70 tons.
What made the moon mission possible was the ability to lift a large enough package into space to get to the moon. If you want to go further, like mars, you need to be able to lift even bigger packages. It looks like the SLS is an advance – backwards.

G. Karst
September 15, 2011 8:22 am

ferd berple says:
September 15, 2011 at 7:57 am
What made the moon mission possible was the ability to lift a large enough package into space to get to the moon. If you want to go further, like mars, you need to be able to lift even bigger packages. It looks like the SLS is an advance – backwards.

…Or assemble several packages into one, in space. After-all, we do have an orbiting, functional, space station.
Come to think of it, why not boost the Hubble telescope up to the space station and attach it? Why not park a shuttle at the station, as more working space, and as a emergency re-entry vehicle. Nothing of the evolution of our space program makes logical sense to me. GK

Dodgy Geezer
September 15, 2011 8:31 am

I want the 2001 space station, with a revolving docking area. And a thinking computer…

Gary Swift
September 15, 2011 9:08 am

The article above talks about liquid fueled rockets and boosters, but they just tested a new solid fueled rocket booster (SRB) for the SLS last week. It was a stationary horrizontal test, and went well.
The new boster has five solid fuel segments, as opposed to the Shuttle’s four segments. It also has a larger exhaust nozzle throat and redesigned insulation. It is a significant advancement over the shuttle boosters. This isn’t NASA Houston or Kenedy doing the work. It’s run by Huntsville/JPL and ATK Space Systems. I have a lot more confidence in Huntsville and JPL than I do with the rest of NASA.
If you’ll have a look at the photograph of the SRB test, I have to ask one question. What the _____ was the point of placing that big US flag on the side of the test rocket? Were they afraid it might break free of the test bed and end up in some foreign country? Does it have a tag on it that says “if found, please return to:”

September 15, 2011 10:14 am

This is so wrong. I think NASA is starting to look old and tired. To get people into space we need to start looking at the X prize contest. These guys are pushing the envelope. They are doing this on a shoe string.

Dave Worley
September 15, 2011 10:42 am

The pessimism here saddens me.
It’s probably a trial ballon and it looks like Americans, even those seemingly interested in science, are more inclined to pop balloons than watch them fly.
Most of the privateers are hucksters and are way overselling their capabilities. Branson is the biggest huckster of all, but some of the others mentioned in the comments are either sub-orbital ventures or are not likely to engage in any real exploration ventures.
There are some things that governments can do better and this is one of them.

jae lee
September 15, 2011 11:24 am

NASA should focus attention on next generation of propulsion engine like ion thrusters. Chemical rockets won’t be able to fly any manned spacecraft to outer solar systems. Chemical rockets are like the sailing ships for navigating the ocean. Ion thrusters propulsioned spacecraft would be like motorized ocean ships. It’s time to move on to the next generation of propulsion engine.

Kelvin Vaughan
September 15, 2011 11:26 am

omnologos says:
September 14, 2011 at 11:19 pm
Enough with these “new” proposals. Just build the f************** thing!!!!! On past performance it’ll be canceled by next President …………………….
Al Gore?

September 15, 2011 12:10 pm

Oh look… a big missile with a capsule – but wait! What are those innovative, crazy SpaceX guys building? A missile – with a capsule on it. Obviously completely different to the Soyuz that the US must rely on, oh, hang on… it’s a missile, with a capsule… from the 1950’s… and I thought this was the 21st Century!
Hands up anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to build a brand new 747 in London, fly six people to New York, and then throw it away. For the return journey, you build a new 747, fly back, then throw that away too. Mad.
Want to know what happened to HOTOL? It became SKYLON –
No, it’s not a ramjet, or a scramjet, or even a LACE engine, but something new, with really cutting edge technology. The project was recently reviewed by ESA amongst others, who declared that they could see no major stumbling blocks.
“The review ended with a consensus that no technical or economic impediments to the development of SKYLON or SABRE had been found.”And these are serious people who know what they’re talking about, not semi-informed internet trolls.
This autumn they’ll be completing a series of tests which will demonstrate that the primary heat exchanger – the one that takes in atmospheric air and chills it before it goes to the turbo compressor, avoiding the liquifaction problems associated with LACE. Successful completion of the tests release the next round of funding. Whether anyone likes it or not, they’re going to build this thing, because it is absolutely the right thing to do.
Will it work? Yes – and a lot of people are convinced and willing to put their money into it, as it’s entirely privately funded. Is it economic? Yes – this aspect has been studied in depth, from building the demonstrators, to full commercial operations. Green? Absolutely – burns hydrogen and oxygen, is entirely reusable, doesn’t add to the orbital debris problem, and can be turned around it two days.
Good old NASA, you have to admire their tenacity and dogged determination to continue with Constellation and build it, no matter what they call it this week. But fear not – the next President of the United States of Whatever will cancel it, or at least cut the funding to the point the whole sorry business will collapse in a bunfight of name-calling and finger-pointing, and then they’ll design a whole new… missile with a capsule on it.
Meanwhile, SKYLON will have revolutionised access to space, killed off the entire traditional launcher market, and be steadily, safely and profitably building a whole new space infrastructure.

September 15, 2011 1:02 pm

Not every entry in the X prize is a rocket.
My post was about thinking outside the box, like your suggestion. Reading the site I think the SKYLON seems a possible candidate for future space travel. With the technology we have I believe we can make a reliable, safe and cheap space craft. If such a craft could be built, I believe it could expand space exploration. A craft that could become a space workhorse. A fleet of several of these craft could easily build a space station. A Mars mission becomes an affordable possibility.
Sadly, I think what NASA has unveiled is a step backward.

September 15, 2011 1:44 pm

Davy123; I agree entirely. X Prize is a great idea, and should be supported and expanded – plenty of truely innovative thinking going on there. But it’s hands up time – I confess I have a vested interest in Reaction Engines as I’ve been working with them for more than 10 years, so I’m intimately acquainted with the people there, and have the utmost respect for them. Shoestring? They started out as three guys in a shed, with one steam powered computer! But anything that gets us away from this backward thinking as epitomised by the latest NASA retro yawnfest has to be applauded.

September 15, 2011 4:43 pm

Perfect, for NASA at least: The video shows a great-looking simulation of what’s on the drawing board. Looks better than the simulations of the Aries etc. Not that anyone is erecting any of this on any launch pads…
In Big Climate Science (sic) we see great-looking simulations of what the climate will be if the modeler has an adequate understanding of the whole-earth climate system. Not that the models ‘forecast’ all that well. And how many of the climate model programmers cut their code-writing teeth developing models for Lehman Bros. etc.? How did that outcome work out for you?
And what’s the big deal about SSTO? in 1958 or so, the Vostok and the Atlas were SSTO launchers. They used kerosene and LOX, no doubt because of what I would term good economic specific impulse – Lb.sec/lb (Nt.sec/ruble) at the location of ignition. Now, once that place is 180 km up and moving 7.8 km/sec, the delivery price to the ignition site rises to – what – $1,000 – $10,000 per pound, to say the least. When the delivery cost to the site is measured in dollars per ton, I’d say it’s hard to beat kerosene and LOX for a low cost, dependable & safe propellant system. Ask the folks who are bringing us Falcon.

September 15, 2011 4:46 pm

Correction – Economic specific impulse would be lb-sec/$ in the USA. (still Nt-sec/rb. in Russia).

Jack Simmons
September 15, 2011 6:10 pm

How come they don’t just build Saturn Vs?

The Realist
September 20, 2011 2:57 pm

Because 10 Skylons are a cheaper option than two Saturn V’s, while 10 Skylons can lift more tonnes into space in one month than two Saturn V’s.
Rocket technology having a place in the near future space industry is a fallacy, and it is not only private investors that want Skylon to succeed… massive companies want it to become a reality as well. Companies such as BSkyB, TeleAtlas and Texaco who all have their future dependent on increased satalite presence in low, medium and high earth orbit.
Alot of people not in the know think Skylon is not capable of medium and high earth orbit… that is beside the point. There is a specific module designed to be carried up there which can move such satalites to those heights from Skylons LEO reach.
So for a Satalite Broadcasting company like BSkyB (News International) the cost of launching a satalite has dropped to about $10,000,000 from an the previously extremely hefty $200,000,000+. Space-X might bring that cost down to $100,000,000 but that is still too expensive for these companies.
While only private investors are willing to put money into Reaction Engines’ idea after the successful cooler test this year, next year with the full engine test you can expect the big multi-national companies getting their wallets ready. They would not even be looking to own part of the company, they are simply going to look into investing into their own cheaper operating costs and that is worth billions of dollars to them… especially as Skylon by design lends itself so well to retrieving faulty satalites and bring them back to earth for repair and getting back in orbit less than a week later. That would save a company the $100,000,000 MINIMUM for launch, plus $50,000,000 for an entirely new satalite to be made.
NASA itself has looked at Skylon and they are encouraging Reaction Engines Limited to make it a reality, these NASA rocket designs… they are not the main thing, NASA is looking to use Skylon and despite most of it’s budget for start up companies is being revoke by the state… there is a new rule that allows them to invest in foriegn companies within allied nations. Aka, the United Kingdom.
REL say they plan to build 90 of these things. NASA will probably buy 10 themselves and that is where it’s future undoubtably lies because it gets the technology in one quick swoop and can legally reverse engineer the design and all of a sudden, it has SSTO at it’s feet. It won’t need such a high budget to build a Skylon replacement.

Brian H
September 20, 2011 7:05 pm

Don K says:
September 15, 2011 at 1:37 am

But aren’t Soyuz and perhaps Space-X (which will presumably be late and over budget, but still a lot more cost effective than this) or a modified X-37B adequate for our real needs?

No, you’re still thinking of NASA. SpaceX’s budgets are locked-in, and it is accelerating its launch schedule, held back only by NASA paperwork and red tape. It would have been doing manned transport to ISS already if not held to an approval-crawl prior to the COTS program (which NASA now wants to scrap to get back to the good old, slow, ways).

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