SLS Garners New Proposals and Potential Destination

NASA has selected 26 proposals for its next heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System or SLS. The space agency has also apparently mentioned a new destination to which this powerful rocket would send crew and cargo to. Image Credit: NASA

Twenty-six proposals have been selected under the NASA Research Announcement (NRA) by NASA for advanced development activities for the Space Launch System or “SLS” – the space agency’s planned heavy-lift booster. The proposals were selected from within the aerospace industry and from academia. 

These proposals were chosen to help develop SLS from the initial design to an iteration that can transport astronauts to points beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO).

“Engaging with academia and industry gives us the opportunity to take advantage of the ingenuity and expertise beyond NASA,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It will help us optimize affordability while integrating mature technical upgrades into future vehicles.”

NASA has proposed to establish a base of operations at the Lagrange point 2 (also known as Earth-moon Lagrange point 2, ML2 or just “L2”). This outpost would be some 280,000 miles away – approximately 39,000 miles more distant than the Moon.

To get there, NASA will need SLS to provide the lift capable to send crew and cargo to such a far-flung destination.

The primary payload for the Space Launch System will be the Orion spacecraft which NASA has been developing for several years to launch astronauts to points beyond low-Earth-orbit or “LEO.” Image Credit: NASA

To accomplish this, NASA has requested in a wide-range of fields from concept development, propulsion, structures, materials, avionics and manufacturing. The space agency is not going about this process alone. NASA has partnered with the U.S. Air Force in order to produce advanced rocket propulsion systems.

The total award amount to accomplish this objective is estimated at $48 million. For fiscal year 2012 the award is $8 million for industry with academia receiving much less at $2.5 million. Awards depend on the appropriated funds stability and availability.

The proposals from academia are as follows:

— “High Electric Density Device for Aerospace Applications,” Auburn University, Ala.
— “Challenges Towards Improved Friction Stir Welds Using On-line Sensing of Weld Quality,” Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge,
— “A New Modeling Approach for Rotating Cavitation Instabilities in Rocket Engine Turbopumps,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, Mass.
— “Algorithmic Enhancements for High-Resolution Hybrid RANS-LES Using Loci-CHEM,” Mississippi State University, Miss.
— “Next Generation Simulation Infrastructure on Large Scale Multicore Architecture,” Mississippi State University, Miss.
— “Characterization of Aluminum/Alumina/Carbon Interactions under Simulated Rocket Motor Conditions,” Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, Pa.
— “Development of Subcritical Atomization Models in the Loci Framework for Liquid Rocket Injectors,” University of Florida,
Gainesville, Fla.
— “Determination of Heat Transfer Coefficients for Two-Phase Flows of Cryogenic Propellants During Line Chilldown and Fluid Transport,”
University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
— “Validation of Subsonic Film Cooling Numerical Simulations Using Detailed Measurements and Novel Diagnostics,” University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
— “Validation of Supersonic Film Cooling Numerical Simulations Using Detailed Measurements and Novel Diagnostics,” University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
— “Advanced LES and Laser Diagnostics to Model Transient Combustion-Dynamical Processes in Rocket Engines: Prediction of Flame
Stabilization and Combustion-Instabilities,” University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
— “Acoustic Emission-Based Health Monitoring of Space Launch System Structures,” University of Utah, Salt Lake City

The following proposals were selected from within industry:

— “Development of a Fluid-Structure Interaction Methodology for Predicting Engine Loads,” ATA Engineering, Inc., San Diego
— “Space Launch System (SLS) Advanced Development Affordable Composite Structures,” ATK Space Systems, Inc., Clearfield, Utah
— “Ball Reliable Advanced Integrated Network,” Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
— “Affordable Structural Weight Reduction for SLS Block 1A,” Collier Research and Development Corp., Newport News, Va.
— “DESLA Systems Engineering and Risk Reduction for AUSEP,” Exquadrum, Inc., Adelanto, Calif.
— “Space Launch System Program AUSEP LOX Flow Control Valve,” MOOG, Inc. Space and Defense Group, Aurora, N.Y.
— “Affordable Upper Stage Engine Advanced Development,” Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Redondo Beach, Calif.
— “Hybrid Precision Casting for Regeneratively-Cooled Thrust Chamber Components,” Orbital Technologies Corp., Madison, Wis.
— “NASA Space Launch System (SLS) Advanced Development, Affordable Upper Stage Engine Program (AUSE) Study,” Pratt & Whitney 
Rocketdyne, Inc., Jupiter, Fla.
— “Advanced Ordnance Systems Demonstration,” Reynolds Systems, Inc.,  Middletown, Calif.
— “Cryo-Tracker Mass Gauging System,” Sierra Lobo, Inc., Freemont, Ohio
— “Efficient High-Fidelity Design and Analysis Tool for Unsteady Flow Physics in Space Propulsion Geometries,” Streamline Numerics, Inc.
Gainesville, Fla.
— “Robust Distributed Sensor Interface Modules (DSIM) for SLS,” The Boeing Company, Huntington Beach, Calif.
— “Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF),” United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.

It is hoped that with the assistance of these various organizations that NASA will be able to usher in a new era of human space flight of which the SLS will play a crucial part. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is the primary payload that SLS would ferry. The launch vehicle is designed to be versatile and carry other payloads that are required to enable the agency’s objective of transporting crew to points beyond LEO for the first time in over 40 years.

The first test flight of the SLS rocket is currently scheduled to take place in 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This version of the rocket will have the capacity to hoist 77 tons to orbit.

“While we are moving out on the initial 70-metric-ton configuration of the vehicle, we will continue to examine concepts, designs and options that will advance the rocket to a 130-metric-ton vehicle, which is essential for deep space exploration,” said Todd May, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “Competitive opportunities like this research announcement ensure we deliver a safe, affordable, sustainable launch system.”

The announcement concerning these proposals comes at a time when NASA is offering a new destination for the Orion spacecraft to travel to.

According to the article posted in the Orlando Sentinel, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden briefed the White House concerning NASA’s decision to establish a way post at L2 earlier this month. Neither NASA nor the White House has provided a timeframe or confirmation that L2 will be a new destination for the space agency.

L2, as seen here with the WMAP spacecraft, is about 39,000 miles from the Moon. THis is one of several points in the Earth-Moon system where gravitational forces are cancelled out. Image Credit:

The attractive aspect of a station located at any Lagrange point is that it would stay there. This is caused by the gravitational influences of the various celestial bodies (Sun, Moon and Earth) cancel each other out at these points. Even when a spacecraft is stopped, gravity will pull on it – not so at these destinations. NASA has used Lagrange points to place spacecraft such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) into a fixed position to conduct scientific observations.

President Barack Obama cancelled the Vision for Space Exploration’s directive that astronauts were to go to the Moon, Mars and beyond for objectives such as an asteroid in the 2020s, and Mars possibly in the mid-2030s. It is unclear if President Obama will approve this new destination, especially in an election year.

It has not been released why NASA would opt to exclude the Moon over an L2 station. The Moon is rich in what are known as “in situ” resources (those located on site) such as water (for drinking, hygiene and rocket fuel) as well as assorted minerals and metals. Anything sent to L2 would have to be hefted out of Earth’s full gravity. If the Moon were established first, as part of a foundation for an infrastructure that progresses outward into the solar system then anything delivered to L2, the other Legrange points or destinations beyond – would have only one-sixth of Earth’s gravity to contend with.

Industry experts point out other issues with NASA selecting L2 as a destination.

“It sounds suspiciously like a program in search of a mission — and that type of approach rarely sells with Congress, the White House or OMB,” said two-time shuttle veteran Robert Springer who worked for Boeing as director of quality systems, Integrated Defense Systems after his time with the space agency. “Additionally, as others have noted, there is a large body of work, including some basic research that needs to be accomplished before this is feasible. The concept of having a “way point” as a refueling site has never passed the test of feasibility — you still have to carry fuel into space, so there is no net savings by having a fuel depot at the space station or at a Lagrange point.”


  1. It seems that Dynetics did not get a contract for its proposal for F1 engines for SLS.It seems that NASA is adamant in not giving a proven technology a chance. I am quite sure that Dynetics can improve on the original F1
    engine. With today’s High Performance Computing System Modeling software the original F1 engine technology especially the infamous turbopumps can be improved vastly. We all know that Liquid fuel heavy lift rockets are more controllable than SRB’s.

  2. Although there is no shortage of proposals for future deep space destinations (Moon, Mars, asteroids, Lagrange points etc), they all eventually tend to end up in the garbage bin when there is time to pay the bill.

    As Jason points out correctly, Lagrange destinations are super cool and a terrific idea, but are much more reachable from the Moon itself than from Earth. Wouldn’t it be more prudent for NASA to draw a plan that involves Lagrange points in pair with a Moon outpost? Why no proposals for a Moon base? Is it because both opponents for the presidency have rejected the Moon as a destination?

    But given the current fiscal environment, L2 is way better than nothing! If we can’t have a lunar outpost, I’d be very happy to see an L2 outpost. Yet, considering again the same fiscal environment, even this feels like a midnight summer dream.

    • Why no lunar base? For two reasons: 1) “We’ve already been there”, and 2) With the expensive HLV we can’t afford a lunar lander.

      Not that either of those explanations make any sense. We need to return to the Moon to obtain the ice-derived propellant that will open up the solar system in a sustainable way. And #2, if we were to develop a heavier lifter using a competed approach, then we could afford a lunar lander. IMO.

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