NASA heavy lift rocket proposed but faces budget funding challenges

NASA announced the development of the Space Launch System — an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle. The new heavy-lift launch vehicle will cost $18 billion, with its first test flight planned for 2017. It will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for transport of crew and cargo.

I think there is very little chance that this vehicle will be funded and developed to completion given the current budget climate. If it gets funded now it would have to not get delayed and have cost overruns and survive through the 2012 and 2016 elections.

The new rocket will include technology from the Space Shuttles and the Constellation program, which was building two rockets, Ares I and Ares V, and it will share a resemblance to the Saturn V, the first rocket to travel to the moon.

Basically it is a proposal to support the old technology base and legacy aerospace companies.

There was a previous analysis of an evolved space Launch System, that would take until 2032 for the full 130 ton advanced system to launch

SLS-5, in August 2024, would be the debut of the Cargo SLS, with a new fairing and a vehicle hardware change possible – as the winner of the booster competition would debut with this HLV.

SLS-6 – August 2025 – would return to the manned configuration, although no mission other than “exploration” – possibly as part of a Near Earth Object (NEO) mission – has been cited by the information.

SLS-7 – August 2026 – a Cargo SLS launch, would see one change to the vehicle, as the expendable SSME – known as the RS-25E – would be employed on the vehicle, taken over from the exhausted Shuttle SSME stock. Again, three engines would be required, as much as all of the SLS vehicles will be designed to have “space” for five engines.

SLS-11 – August, 2030 – would be the next change, as the five engine core is filled with the two extra RS-25Es, utilizing the full core power plant.

This configuration’s debut would be a cargo based mission, followed by a crewed mission one year later.

And then, in August of 2032, the evolved SLS is expected to debut (see image left), again based on the same 5xRS-25E driven core, but this time with a full Upper Stage, becoming the 130mt+ HLV. This debut (SLS-13) would be – as expected – based around a cargo mission.

There are other cost estimates that go as high as $62.5 billion to build and operate SLS through 2015. The $38 billion estimate to 2025 has been criticized as unrealistic. Just a simple projection of maintaining $3 billion per year to 2032 is $63 billion. Given the history of this kind of rocket development costs to 2032 are more likely to be $120-250 billion and there would be delays to 2035-2045.

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. That’s more than 154,000 pounds, or 77 tons, roughly the weight of 40 sport utility vehicles. The lift capacity will be evolvable to 130 metric tons — more than 286,000 pounds, or 143 tons — enough to lift 75 SUVs. The first developmental flight, or mission, is targeted for the end of 2017.

The Spacex Falcon heavy could be flying in 2012 and will have 53 tons of lift capacity.

Spacex is developing a staged combustion engine and other engine and design improvements which could result in a variety of cheaper launchers and heavy lift capacity.

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