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back to article NASA unveils its chosen Shuttle successor

NASA has announced plans for a massive rocket based on recycled space shuttle technology, intended to launch manned missions beyond Earth orbit in decades to come. The Space Launch System (SLS) will make use of a central first stage equipped with no less than five shuttle main engines (the now-retired orbiter spaceplanes mounted …

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FAIL

Here we go again...

Congress just barely funds NASA to give their corporate friends some money, but then they don't want to fund NASA enough to actually be useful. I wish these clowns would just make up their mind what they want to do. I do believe the future of space travel lies with private industry, but having a mix of commercial and private is not making the most use of us tax payer's dollars. Just another example of the flawed reasoning behind the "trickle down" theory of economics that they subscribe to.

Anyone else see a parallel with the US space program and the music industry?

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Deja vu all over again

Saturn MLV-V-4, anyone?

http://astronautix.com/lvs/satlvv4s.htm

"American orbital launch vehicle. MSFC study, 1965. Saturn V core, strengthened but not stretched, with 4 Titan UA1205 strap-on solid rocket boosters..."

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Facepalm

Completely underwhelming?

Using shuttle main engines isn't exactly a bold leap forward - weren't they they ones that got cracked turbine blades that could easily have caused a Challenger type disaster if the SRBs hadn't got there first? I suppose at least they are not planning on reusing them this time. And the SRBs look like they have joints in them still which suggests a certain lack of learning from the past. And an upper stage using apollo era engines?

I think they missed the "not" and went for "we will only look at revising or modifying older models".

Musk may have a tendancy to overly "big up" what they will be able to do soon, but what they have acheived so far is pretty impressive and, if he can continue at that pace, it's pretty likely that he will out-achieve the SLS before it's even test flown. Even if he can't do 130 tons (and there is no guarantee that the SLS will either) surely sending things up in smaller lumps and assembling in orbit (which is likely to be a required step even with130 tons of lift) when the launch cost is likely to be a fraction of the SLS is better?

NASA should be designing/building the thing that gets assembled in orbit and goes to Mars/Asteroids/whatever - that would be the new exciting thing. $18bn worth of genuine new, never-been-done before technology.

What a missed opportunity.

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The Falcon Heavy is the sensible way forward.

Unfortuantly the people that run America are not sensible. This money would be much better spent developing all the other components needed for a mission to Mars or indeed a mission to anywhere.

An if they were sensible much of that development would be base of excisting technologies or technologies already under development.

Blue origin craft for example look like it would make a perfect Mars lander and take off vehicles, once it bugs are figured out.

Using Bigelow inflatable Habitat technologies to build the space ship and a Mars base of operations would also make sense.

Using VASMIR drives for the propulsion system to mar and back from Mars make perfect sense. This also a private venture.

Use Falcons 9s and Falcon Heavies to deliver components for in orbital assembly, using the International Station as a base of operations perhaps.

NASA should focus it efforts on designing and building a power source capable of powering VASMIR drive and developing the life support systems capable of supporting such a mission. Plus supporting and funding the development of the above technologies. It should not focus of build earth to orbit technologies, it a wast of funds.

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SLS, SSMEs, reinventing the wheel, etc.

"Using shuttle main engines isn't exactly a bold leap forward - weren't they they ones that got cracked turbine blades that could easily have caused a Challenger type disaster if the SRBs hadn't got there first?"

I don't know about the cracked turbine blade issue, but iirc, the SSMEs have been far more reliable and less accident-prone (shall we say) than the SRBs. USAF experience with strap-on SRBs on the Titan III long before the Shuttle flew showed lots of problems with seals similar to the Shuttle SRB O-ring issue.

It makes perfect sense to me that on the new SLS heavy-lift vehicle, NASA is going with technology that's already proven and has a long filght history instead of trying to invent something new from zero... although I still wonder about how the new version of the Apollo-era J2 design will work for them; with all the advancements in engineering and materials science since the '60s, you can be pretty sure they aren't just going to pull the old J2 plans and build the engines as-is from the old '60s designs.

You also have to remember that a lot of what they're proposing for this new vehicle probably has its origins in the old "Shuttle-C" unmanned heavy-lift cargo launch system proposed in the late '80s:

http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/shuttlec.htm

"American orbital launch vehicle. NASA Marshall design for a cargo version of the shuttle system. The shuttle orbiter would be replaced by an unmanned recoverable main engine pod. The same concept was studied earlier as the Interim Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (IHLLV) and as the Class I Shuttle Derived Vehicle (SDV). The Phase I two-SSME configuration would have a payload of 45,000 kg to low earth orbit. Design carried to an advanced phase in 1987-1990, but then abandoned when it was found the concept had no cost advantage over existing expenable launch vehicles..."

Granted, the new SLS heavy-lift vehicle doesn't exactly resemble the proposed Shuttle-C --

http://www.astronautix.com/graphics/s/shuttlec.jpg

-- but there are many similarities, such as the first-stage core based on the Shuttle main tankage powered by SSMEs with solid strap-ons.

It's also interesting that along with reviving some elements of the old Shuttle-C proposal, the SLS vehicle also bears a striking resemblance to the old Saturn MLV-V proposed in the '60s, an uprated Saturn V with strap-on SRBs on the first stage.

.

As far as private industry being able to do space better... well, it's not like privately-run aerospace corporations are loaded with risk-averse leadership, or bean-counter types cutting corners and jeapordizing missions in order to save a couple of bucks... are they? Let's not forget North American's issues with workmanship, etc. on the Block I Apollo; when Gus Grissom hung a lemon from the hatch of an under-construction Block I CM after a visit to the NA plant, he wasn't just joking around.

What also worries me is that with all these different companies all going ahead with their own programs -- instead of proposing their systems to NASA under an RFP for a contract award to build a single design -- we're going to end up in a situation much like the xUSSR during the '50s and '60s: two or three companies -- or, in the xUSSR's case, design bureaus -- going ahead and building full-up launch systems and flight hardware, and suffering all the duplication of effort and duplication of cost overruns that went with it.

Still, I've got to admit I'm totally rooting for SpaceX, as it looks as if they've really got it going on with the Falcon launcher, and if they can get their manned version of Dragon together and get it certified, well, I sure as hell won't be complaining. Being an old '60s kid, I'm a die-hard NASA fan, but, still... what the hell, the more the merrier.

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SRB's

To build the SRB's without sections, the fuel grain would need to be cast as one big lump.

I'm not saying the design is perfect, but there are practical reasons for it.

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SME turbine blade cracking

It was in one of the high pressue fuel turbopumps. I think a similar "normalisation of deviance" process to the o-ring leasks was occuring in NASA - the cracks would be spotted but "nothing bad had happened" therefore it was OK. I recall that at one point there were launching with known cracks and measuring how much they had grown on return. I may have over estimated the impact though - i think the failures they did have led to premature engine shutdown rather than catastrophic failure. Not that engine shutdown is necessarily a trivial event.

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Single piece SRBs

I thought the original design of the shuttle SRBs was in one section? But that would have required building them near the launch complex as they would have been too large to transport. i.e. the work couldn't be done in a different state therefore the budget wouldn't have been approved if each state didn't get a piece. These ones are bigger though so that could make a difference.

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"I thought the original design of the shuttle SRBs was in one section?"

Nope.

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Boffin

As a wise man once said about the Apollo project-

"We do these things,not because they are easy, but because they are difficult." (or similar)

Practical methods don't arise from ease, but from difficulty.

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Feyman

> I don't know about the cracked turbine blade issue,

Then you should read Richard Feynman's book about Challenger.

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Business as usual

Take the most expensive and complicated bits of the existing shuttle (the SME) bolt them to the unsafe bit of the existing shuttle (the SRB) and hope.

Wonder which senators Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Morton Thiokol own?

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Anonymous Coward

I'm not going to hold my breath

waiting for this thing to ever actually fly

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I do not think anyone expects this to fly, in fact everyone in the administration and NASA hopes congress sees sense and cancel the entire thing.

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Boffin

More NASA pork, more delay, less space

As usual, NASA is reinventing everything instead of going with what we already know, and what is already 90% of the maximum that is physically possible. NASA is aided here by credulous politicians and journalists who don't understand rockets.

Power isn't everything. In space, efficiency IS everything. A low-thrust engine that works at highest amount of delta-V per kg. of fuel is way better than a monster thruster. But you do need monster rockets to get into the sub-orbital regime. Solid boosters have a lot of thrust but are low in delta-V/kg. They get you off the ground. The space shuttle main engine is a high-efficiency engine, but to get the high efficiency it uses highly expensive technology. It would have been better to go with a less expensive rocket. Saturn V stage 1 rockets did a very good job and represent close to the maximum possible for their technology and fuel type.

Best of all, there's Soyuz, a proven system. But no way will US politicians allow NASA to adopt anything that even looks like it.

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What does NASA stand for

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

It is an Administration, run by administrators for the benefit of administrators. No mention of science or such. Thus there is little point in expecting amazing engineering solutions - just expect plans which will guarantee the brass keep their jobs.

As for "inspire millions around the world". Playing around in space was inspiring in the 1960s. In the 1980s I remember hundreds of people going outside to see the shuttle fly over. But just doing 50 year old tricks is no longer inspiring.

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This isn't NASA pork, it's congress'

The only reason NASA is fronting this design is because the "geniuses" in congress ordered them to do it. Congress has killed funding for all research into new technology, and demanded they come up with this design, which congress will later cancel as well and blame NASA for the money that's been wasted.

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Holmes

The NASA jobs have mostly gone

Already. Most of the Shuttle processing workers at the Cape have been given their cards and there are reports of ghost towns as they move away. If the Senate Launch System ever does fly they'll need to start again with the ground crews.

The jobs that are being kept for now are in Utah building the stretched SRBs. Eventual replacement by liquid boosters is a nice idea but will never happen while the current Utah senators hold on to office.

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FAIL

Ghost towns? Please.

Look Guy, you dont live in Central Florida or else you'd never spout garbage like that. Reports of Ghost Towns? If it wasnt so damned ignorant of how Aerospace actually is here, I'd think it was hilarious. Most of it is geared toward the Military and Private Industry, NASA only ever occupied around a 3 to 5% workforce share.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, who manufacture the Trident, Patriot, Javelin, Hellfire, Sidewinder, AMRAAM, and Standard Missile series for the US Army, US Navy, and several other nations is based in Orlando. Northrop Grumman Laser Systems is based in Apopka. General Dynamics has a large facility in Titusville. Harris Corporation is in Melbourne. The United Launch Alliance and Space X have large facilities at the Cape. Titusville, Melbourne, Satellite Beach, Jupiter, and Merritt Island arent exactly Ghost Towns, Lockheed Martin East Orlando/UCF and the Lockheed plant in South Orlando by Universal are a bit of a longer commute for these folks but its only about half an hour away on the 528 and 417 toll roads.

Most people who had experience with the civilian program are already employed by the main contractors like Boeing and LM, or the thousands of sub-contractors working on Military programs, or switched over to being employed directly by the United Launch Alliance for the civilian side of the Delta and Atlas projects. Space X is also on a hiring blitz locally because COTS is most likely going to be based at LC 41 at CCAFS. Unemployment in Aerospace has actually FALLEN since May. Wont hear NASA saying it, but according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, its true.

The only people who really got hurt were small businesses who produced specialized parts and refused to expand beyond their comfort zone. Sucks for them. Perhaps they should have innovated in, say, 1986?

Everyone else, as long as they weren't working on dead end technologies like ceramics or Orbiter Processing (and even then the Air Force hired a lot of them for the X-37B), has a better shot at staying in the field by staying local than nearly anywhere else with the exception of Wallops and Vandenburg.

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@FrankAlphaXii

"Most people who had experience with the civilian program are already employed by the main contractors like Boeing and LM, or the thousands of sub-contractors working on Military programs, or switched over to being employed directly by the United Launch Alliance for the civilian side of the Delta and Atlas projects. Space X is also on a hiring blitz locally because COTS is most likely going to be based at LC 41 at CCAFS. Unemployment in Aerospace has actually FALLEN since May. Wont hear NASA saying it, but according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, its true."

You make it sound like it there could be trouble hiring *any* of these guys back if they have relevant experience.

Is that correct?

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Black Helicopters

Sounds like this guy

agrees with you:

http://iheardacouplethings.blogspot.com/2011/09/nasa-avoids-smelling-like-musk.html

Black helicopter because who calls himself "Procrustes 17" unless he's waiting for them to find him?

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Facepalm

Paint the main fuel tank orange and you have Ares V.

It's exactly the same

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Screw the NASA pork barrel

Go spacex!

If only Nasa could deliver space exploration as well as it delivers Pork.

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I'd agree with you, if it wasn't for the fact that congress demanded this design. NASA held off as long as possible hoping that they'd change their minds. Alas, there's no minds left in congress, so this money will be wasted. Blame congress for that, not NASA.

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Pint

Ah, excuse me...

I like the pretty design. I hope it's loud. I hope it can carry huge payloads into orbit. I like NASA. But...

The Shuttle Main Engines are relatively expensive because they were designed to be reused hundreds of times, as opposed to lasting just 120 seconds (single use) and being tossed into the sea. So this design uses the very expensive, endlessly-reusable Shuttle Main Engines and then tosses them into the sea?

Can they add parachutes to the first stage?

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Boffin

Absurd

Evdently the notion of using the RS-68A engines that the Delta IV uses has been abandoned in favor of jobs. It's only got 95% fewer parts (less parts = fewer points of failure, less machining), generate 140% as much thrust as an SSME (3 RS-68A @ 2.1M lb outmuscle 5 SSME @ 2.0M lb), and would give huge economies of scale for both NASA and Delta to be buying them. Also, that's another 6 tons of payload capacity from not hauling 2 SSME...

Of course cryogenic engines require a labyrinthine seal and so consume absurd amounts of helium when fueled to keep 'em separated, which drives costs up. RD-170s would be nice, purge with nitrogen and all. Oh wait, Russians, danger, danger.

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@DryBones

You forgot that the "J-2X" is about a 90% RS-68 (but with *special* man rating source) and now they appear to be talking about an *expendable* SSME (RS25e).

It's interesting to speculate if NASA *had* considered the RS68A man-ratable would it have been flying by now?

The Aerospace Corp reckoned it would mostly take a backup hydraulics system but with no SRB's needed for Ares 1 they projected a $6.8Bn bill from ATK to re-start SRB production, killing any cost advantages.

Of course if NASA ditched solids entirely that re-start cost would go away entirely.

I note that the *suggested* Merlin 2 thrust level is 1.7M lb, just about 1/2 that of an SRB. Merlin 1d's have an Isp about 26 secs higher (274 Vs 248) of SRB's. *if* that could be preserved by Merlin2 that would make for an interesting entrant in the booster engine stakes.

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Facepalm

If they're going to (stupidly) pass on SpaceX, why not just build...

... an up-rated Saturn V, then?

They were heavy, reliable workhorses that also, like Musk's kit, had kerosene-based first stages.

I'm sure the blueprints can still be found at Boeing, stuffed in a filing cabinet (or two) somewhere.

"New designs, new materials, [and] new technologies" aren't necessarily the best way to go about things, especially when it involves strapping your arse to the top of a large container carrying a couple million kilograms of rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Keep it simple; use what works. Musk (and by extension, SpaceX) gets this. The Big Players don't...

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They should have just de-mothballed the Saturn V design, used it and then started to make changes. Essentially that is what they are doing now, use what they know works and make changes later but with other designs. A Saturn V design has to be cheaper than this proposed solution.

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FAIL

Tooling

The Saturn V tooling will have been scrapped years ago, while they appear to have let most of the workers go, the Shuttle tooling is probably still sat around.

This would be cheaper than having to re-tool to build the Saturn V Update.

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Adaptation

Well, a not insignificant portion of Apollo's tooling was adapted to work with the Shuttle, so one could presume that doing the same thing in reverse would also work.

Besides, just because we would be using the Saturn V blueprints as a starting-point, doesn't mean we would end up with a 1969-era Saturn V in the end.

The C-130J SuperHercules, for example, is designated as a "C-130" series cargo plane by the manufacturer (Lockheed Martin) and the US Department of Defense, but is structurally and mechanically quite a different animal from its earlier brethren, despite its similar outward appearance and being based on the design of its immediate predecessors.

I can already think of a couple things I would do to "modernise" the Saturn V. For starters, I would replace the venerable F-1 first stage engines with enhanced RD-180s. I would also try to find a way to use some of the kerosene fuel to provide pressure to operate the engines' gimball actuators, eliminating the need for separate (and payload-weight-consuming) hydraulic fluid tankage.

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Facepalm

Correction: RD-170, not RD-180

Er... That should have been RD-170, not RD-180. Hit the wrong digit there...

The RD-170 is the 4-chamber version, w/ 7.55 meganewtons thrust at ground level. The RD-180 is the 2-chamber version, w/ 3.83 meganewtons thrust at ground level.

For comparison, the Saturn V F-1 engine is a single-chambered unit, and produced about 6.75 meganewtons thrust at launch.

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Unhappy

This makes me

A very sad panda...

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Reusable rockets are like reusable beer cans

And no, I don't mean "recycling", I mean "wash out the can and fill it back up with beer and crimp on a new top".

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SLS isn't news...

The plan for SLS has been available for months. It does use the SRBs because they give tremendous lift for their cost. SRBs have not given any trouble in Shuttle service, either. SRBs were always scary in that one cannot shut-them-off, though. The SLS SRBs are substantially larger than Shuttle SRBs, though.

The central LOX rocket array is quite different from the Shuttle. Theoretically, a similar LOX was to be used on Ares V, but none of them were ever built. Given the place where these rockets would be discarded, it is hard to imagine how they would be recovered for reuse. SLS is all about leaving Earth orbit and getting to deep space.

J2X is 50% wider than the Apollo J2 and weighs twice as much. It is clearly derived from J2, but it isn't a warmed-over J2.

In short, SLS found it cheaper to expand and adapt technology from Apollo, Shuttle, Proton, etc. than to deploy completely new technology to meet its 2015 timeline. Research continues on Ion-Rockets (two unmanned missions have already been using them for years) and other advanced technology. It just won't be ready by 2015.

FWIW Ares V was never a man-rated system and Ares IV was about going to the Moon, so they clearly weren't going to satisfy this Mars-mission project-track to which SLS is being assigned.

I wish SpaceX well, but they have their plate full with COTS right now. COTS is funding the overwhelming percentage of SpaceX activity. SpaceX needs to make profits from its already-busy schedule over the next 3-5 years.

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"SRBs have not given any trouble in Shuttle service, either" Ummmm, are you forgetting Challenger?

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The article fail to tell a key peace of the story.

NASA did not have a choice about building the SLS, it did not even have much of a choice about what engines and components that craft use. It even forbids NASA from holding a competitive tendering process, by way of mandating which components NASA were allowed to use, which eliminated all competition from winning the contract.

The US senate created a law which mandated that NASA builds the SLS. It also declared that the engines and components of the SLS must be derived or adapted directly from the Shuttle and Apollo programmes. NASA has no choice but to design the vehicle it has design or break the law.

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Facepalm

Oink Oink

I believe the RS-68 is SSME-derived. What's the problem here? Yep.

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Still smaller than Energia

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Facepalm

Throw it away! Throw it away!

Sorry, did I read that right, throwing away SMEs?

Apart from the idea of throwing away reusable engines, why aren't they putting money into alternative SSTO tech, like the DCX-Clipper or the X33? YES I KNOW they had problems, but so did the bloody Apollo CM and the Shuttle, and they got solved!

Why is humanity suddenly so scared of innovation or engineering? Are we afraid Electric Sky-Daddy Baby J'eeeezus will slap us for blasphemy?

NASA - We put men on the moon, once; now we piss money up against the wall!

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FAIL

When you have invisible friends...

Like: Electric Sky-Daddy Baby J'eeeezus...

You don't need science nor innovation.

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in this case NASA is avoiding innovation by direct order of congress who said they had to use exsisting STS and/or Apollo kit so that congress could write thier corporate leash holders a nice check without inconveniencing them overmuch... i mean "create jobs" I always get the two confused.

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Paris Hilton

@Soyuz being proven technology

[[Best of all, there's Soyuz, a proven system.]]

Didn't a Soyuz crash on launch less than a month ago? And this is the same Soyuz system that within the last few years had two ballistic reentries, at least one of them traced to a failed section-separation explosive bolt*?

IMO, the Soyuz has been proven Russian. We can absolutely learn from it, but I don't know if I'd want to depend on it much.

(* Some of the Russians said there were too many women on board. More evidence the system needs work - we need spacecraft that are women-capable because... Mars Needs Women!)

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Trollface

Driving down the costs.

"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,"

Scene: the Orion CM

Date: November 2019

*bang*

Cmdr: "WTF?"

Pilot: "Ah, Mumbai, we have a problem"

MSpc: (sniggering) "LOL"

GC: "Hello, my name is Gupta, how are you today sir?"

Pilot: "We seem to be venting something.... a gas of some sort?"

GC: "Thank you sir, can I get you to read me your credit card number so I can transfer you to tech support"

Cmdr: "Does anyone else smell burning?"

GC: "Confirm you question is you are out of inkjet toner? Have you tried switching it off then on?"

Pilot: "DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!"

exeunt omnes

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Flame

Sorry, this has got me riled up. That or the coffee.

"That's not in the 70-130 tonne class required for deep space missions."

My maths says 54t x 2 = 108t, which puts it slap bang in the middle of the lifting power needed for deep space missions.

Does anyone else remember way back when we could launch two rockets and have them rendezvous in orbit fairly easily? Like Gemini in the 60's? You know, like LAST FRELLING CENTURY?

Wasn't that the way we could get to Mars? (actually a better bet is Europa or Titan, pardon me for being an optimist!)

It isn't looking good for the human race, is it?

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Anonymous Coward

Deep Space Exploration

I think the reality is that while *we* are thirsty for space adventures the reality is that Mars exploration is pretty pointless and we do not have the tested technology for deep space exploration such as Europa or Titan.

Having said that, I do not understand why VASIMR technology has not been deployed yet to the space station at least. It appears to have worked reliably in deep space missions and everything I read tells me it's ready for prime time.

I think President Obama's mission to the asteroid belt would be much more interesting than a Mars mission anyway. It has the advantage of nod needing to lift off Mars (which is a *big* deal) and providing a source of possibly usable materials that are *not at the bottom of a gravity well*.

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"I do not understand why VASIMR technology has not been deployed yet to the space station at least. It appears to have worked reliably in deep space missions and everything I read tells me it's ready for prime time."

VASIMR hasn't been into space yet, other types of ION engines have. VASIMR has only been tested in hypobaric chambers.

The flight engine was due to go up on the last shuttle launch, but it wasn't finished in time.

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Unhappy

@Wombling_Free

Well it's certainly not looking good for NASA's ability to design and *build* a rocket in any reasonable timescale.

Or Senators to fund (what they *demanded* be built) to a level that will actually see it *fly*.

It's looking like a triumph for cost+ and re-hiring programmes.

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Anonymous Coward

SRBs have not given any trouble in Shuttle service, either.

True.

If you ignore the 'blow the whole stack to smithereens' incident, then yes, they've been perfect.

Oh, and IIRC you have to harden the hell out of anything you strap them to because they shake the buggery out of it due to their uncontrolled burn. It only means you have to subtract a few tonnes from the payload though.

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Silver badge

It's a darn good thing NASA doesn't build cars. After who would want to drive a hybrid electric that came with a flathead from a '44 jeep and 80 hp DC brushless motors that were hand wound by physics PhDs in a penthouse suite somewhere in Tribeca on each wheel that needed to be replaced with every tankful of gas. But think of the children's jobs it will create... or something like that.

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