NASA has unveiled the design plan of an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit.
The Space Launch System is intended to provide a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond humanity's current limits and opening up new discoveries in space.
This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated. President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow's explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.
The 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 backup for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station.
NASA reported that 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.
Furthermore, 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.
NASA has been making steady progress toward realizing the president's goal of deep space exploration, while doing so in a more affordable way, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver stated. We have been driving down the costs on the Space Launch System and Orion contracts by adopting new ways of doing business and project hundreds of millions of dollars of savings each year.
This specific architecture was selected, largely because it utilizes an evolvable development approach, which allows NASA to address high-cost development activities early on in the program and take advantage of higher buying power before inflation erodes the available funding of a fixed budget.