Today NASA, along with Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill Nelson, announced the Space Launch System architecture. After studying and analyzing the Space Launch System architecture for 338 days, NASA today unveiled the final SLS design. Originally due January 1st by Section 309 of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, this announcement puts the U.S. human space flight program on a path to explore far beyond low earth orbit, an area left unexplored since Apollo 17’s mission in December 1972.
The SLS will consist of a main core stage that derives from the Shuttle External Tank (ET), although it will be taller than the ET. At the base of the SLS core stage will be 5 Shuttle Main Engines (SSME’s, or RS-25D/E’s). Initially, two 5 segment solid rocket motors will be on either side of the SLS. At some point, there will be a competition held to design alternative boosters for the SLS that will be more efficient and lower maintenance. In its 70-100 metric ton configuration, the SLS will have a second stage powered by a Pratt & Whiteney J-2X. The J-2X is currently undergoing testing at Stennis Center’s A-2 Test Stand. Eventually the payload capacity of the SLS will climb to 130 metric tons.
For more information on NASA’s space exploration efforts, check-out NASA’s Exploration Section.