NASA plans first exploration-class vehicle since Saturn V

The first exploration-class vehicle since Saturn V has been announced today by NASA.

According to NASA, the advanced heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth’s orbit and 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 technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation programmes in order to take advantage of proven hardware and advanced tooling and manufacturing technology that is expected to reduce development and operations costs.

It will use a liquid-hydrogen and liquid-oxygen propulsion system, including the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle programme 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 open to competition, based on performance requirements and affordability.

The SLS will have an initial lift capacity of 70 tonnes and will be evolvable to 130 tonnes. The first developmental flight, or mission, is targeted for the end of 2017.

NASA said it may not need to lift 130 tonnes for each mission but the flexibility of the modular architecture allows the agency to use different core-stage, upper-stage and first-stage booster combinations to achieve the most efficient launch vehicle for the desired mission.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden said SLS represents the best possible rocket for the investment being made in it.