NASA, supported by four commercial space companies, has completed critical design review for a deep-space launch vehicle –- the agency’s such milestone in almost 40 years.
NASA’s Space Launch System was designed for eventual manned journeys to Mars and beyond, as well as for asteroid exploration and other missions. Companies involved in SLS’ development include Orbital ATK, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin.
NASA said Oct. 22 the SLS now is a “go” for production, assembly, integration and testing. Design certification is targeted for 2017, with flight readiness expected by July 2018.
“The successes and milestones we are seeing are incredibly important steps in the development of NASA’s heavy-lift, deep space exploration vehicle,” said Charlie Precourt of Orbital ATK’s propulsion systems division. “This rocket is the foundation of a very promising future for human spaceflight, and will take humans farther than we’ve ever gone before.”
Orbital will provide solid rocket boosters for the SLS, and Boeing is developing the rocket’s core and upper stage. Aerojet Rocketdyne will provide engines to carry the SLS and accompanying Orion spacecraft into space, while Lockheed Martin is designing and building the Orion, which will fly on top of SLS and into deep space.
The SLS represents the first “exploration class” rocket since the Saturn V, which was used during the Apollo lunar program.
The SLS’ recent milestone successes have included ground test of its booster engines.
“We are increasing the cadence of the RS-25 tests to verify each engine’s performance prior to their first flight in 2018,” said Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s vice president of advanced space and launch operations. “The milestone progress we are making today is setting the stage for many unforeseen discoveries in the future.”
Meantime, Lockheed engineers have begun additional welding work on the Orion, which had a first test flight in December. Engineers are reducing the weight of the vehicle and making manufacturing design improvements.