Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NASA releases new details on next SLS rockets

NASA is fine-tuning its design for the new Space Launch System (SLS) that will send astronauts to the moon, asteroids and possibly Mars. Basically there will be three main types of rocket, the Block 1, Block 1A and Block 2. Block 1A and Block 2 will both have a crewed and a cargo variant, so that's a total of 5 models. The most important difference with what was announced last September is that the main core stage will now have four or five RS-25D/E Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) instead of three.

Block 1 will have two 5-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and one core stage with four RS-25D engines burning liquid Oxygen and Hydrogen. It will be able to put 70 metric tonnes (mt) in Low Earth Orbit. The vehicle model number is VCR 10002.

Block 1A will be the same as Block 1 but the two SRBs will be replaced by either Advanced Composite SRBs or by liquid-fueled boosters (to be determined in 2015) and the main engines will be RS-25E (cheaper, non-reusable version of the RS-25D). It will put 105 mt in LEO. Model numbers are VCR 11002 (cargo) and VCR 13002 (crewed) for the ones with SRBs and VCR 12002 (cargo) and VCR 14002 (crewed) for the ones with liquid-fueled boosters.

Block 2 will be the same as Block 1A but with a second stage with one to three J2-X engines and possibly five RS-25E Engines on the first stage. It will put 130 mt in orbit. Model numbers are VCR 21002 (cargo) and VCR 23002 (crewed) for the ones with SRBs and VCR 22002 (cargo) and VCR 24002 (crewed) for the ones with liquid-fueled boosters.

The first flight of the SLS Block 1 rocket, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is still scheduled for 2017 and will send an unmanned Orion MPCV capsule around the moon and back. The second flight, EM-2 will also be a Block 1 and this time it will send a crew of 4 astronauts around the moon (but no landing). EM-2 is scheduled around 2019. The Block 1A should come in service between 2019 and 2021, and Block 2 sometime after 2021.

Planning is also well underway for a 6-month long mission to send astronauts to an Asteroid more than 12 millions miles away in the 2020's. Such a mission would be a stepping stone towards the ultimate objective of sending humans to Mars.

The SLS rockets are not designed to send astronauts to the International Space Station, as this would be overkill for such a big rocket. Accessing the ISS is a task that should be accomplished in the near future by private space companies like SpaceX and their Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule. Nevertheless, if those private companies were to fail to deliver on their promises, a SLS Block 1 could easily (but expensively) do the job.

SLS Block 2 Dimensions

Here is a cool video from NASA that shows a CGI animation of an SLS launch:

The Block 2 SLS will be the biggest rocket ever made:

Via [nasa]


  1. I believe with SLS and the Orion capsule we can make it back to the moon, go to Mars, and into the stars...


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