New Space Launch System Inspires NASA Engineers

By  //  February 16, 2013

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BREVARD COUNTY • KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLORIDA – The imaginations of NASA engineers and scientists have been galvanized and inspired with news of the new Space Launch System on the horizon because it’s expected that this new concept will take astronauts farther into space than ever before.

This is an expanded view of an artist rendering of the 70-metric ton new NASA Space Launch System, managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Core Stage, highlighted above, recently passed a review by a panel of NASA, The Boeing Company of Huntsville and independent engineers. (Image courtesy NASA)

The new Space Launch System was able to pass a technical review of its core stage at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama late last year, prompting widespread excitement at NASA.

For that review, NASA and Boeing Company engineers revealed a complete set of core system requirements, design components and production specifics to an independent board for inspection and review.

The new heavy lift rocket’s core stage is the main part of the launch vehicle, standing more than 200 feet with a diameter of 27 ½ feet.

“This meeting validates our design requirements for the core stage of the nation’s heavy-lift rocket and is the first major checkpoint for our team,” said Tony Lavoie, manager of the SLS Stages Element at Marshall in a press release. “Getting to this point took a lot of hard work, and I’m proud of the collaboration between NASA and our partners at Boeing. Now that we have completed this review, we go from requirements to real blueprints. We are right on track to deliver the core stage for the SLS program.”

Former space shuttle main engines called RS-25s will power the new launch system for the first few flights. (Image courtesy NASA)

Core Stage

Lavoie said the rocket’s core stage will store liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, all of which will be former space shuttle main engines for the first few flights.

In all, the program has an inventory of 16 RS-25 flight engines that successfully operated for the life of the Space Shuttle Program.

Like the space shuttle, SLS also will be powered initially by two solid rocket boosters on the sides of the launch vehicle, Lavoie said.

The system was originally designed to launch NASA’s proposed Orion spacecraft and other payloads and to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low earth orbit.

A test of the new SLS launch system could be be conducted at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as early as 2017. (Image courtesy NASA)

Continuing Journey

It was conceived as a safe, affordable and flexible alternative for crew and cargo missions and it is hoped it will continue America’s journey of discovery and exploration to destinations including nearby asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and ultimately, Mars.

“This is a very exciting time for the country and NASA as important achievements are made on the most advanced hardware ever designed for human space flight,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The SLS will power a new generation of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit and the moon, pushing the frontiers of discovery forward. The innovations being made now, and the hardware being delivered and tested, are all testaments to the ability of the U.S. aerospace workforce to make the dream of deeper solar system exploration by humans a reality in our lifetimes.”

Lavoie said the first test flight of NASA’s new Space Launch System, which will feature a configuration for a 77-ton lift  capacity, is scheduled for 2017 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

As the system evolves, a two-stage launch vehicle will provide a lift capability of 143 tons to enable missions beyond low earth orbit and support deep space exploration.

“The SLS will power a new generation of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit and the moon, pushing the frontiers of discovery forward,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Contractors

The Boeing Company is the prime contractor for the new SLS core stage, including its avionics.

The core stage will be built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans using state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. Marshall manages the SLS Program for the agency.

Lavoie said that across the entire SLS Program, swift progress is being made on several crucial elements essential to the successful transition from conceptualization to reality.

The J-2X upper-stage rocket engine, developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for the future two-stage SLS, is being tested at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The prime contractor for the five-segment solid rocket boosters, ATK of Brigham City, Utah, has begun processing its first SLS hardware components in preparation for an initial qualification test in 2013.


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