NASA Completes Critical Design Review for Space Launch System

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. (Credit: NASA)
Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NASA PR) — For the first time in almost 40 years, a NASA human-rated rocket has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR). The agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and, with the agency’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. The CDR provided a final look at the design and development of the integrated launch vehicle before full-scale fabrication begins.

“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS, we’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division. “There have been challenges, and there will be more ahead, but this review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space.”

The CDR examined the first of three configurations planned for the rocket, referred to as SLS Block 1. The Block I configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines. The next planned upgrade of SLS, Block 1B, would use a more powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. Block 2 will add a pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide a 130-metric-ton (143-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.

SLS Bloc k I launch vehicle (Credits: NASA/MSFC)
SLS Bloc k I launch vehicle (Credits: NASA/MSFC)

The SLS Program completed the review in July, in conjunction with a separate review by the Standing Review Board, which is composed of seasoned experts from NASA and industry who are independent of the program. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – made up of senior engineers and aerospace experts across the agency and industry – reviewed more than 1,000 SLS documents and more than 150 GB of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where SLS is managed for the agency.

The Standing Review Board reviewed and assessed the program’s readiness and confirmed the technical effort is on track to complete system development and meet performance requirements on budget and on schedule.

The program briefed the results of the review in October to the Agency Program Management Council, led by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, as the final step in the CDR process.

This review is the last of four reviews that examine concepts and designs. The next step for the program is design certification, which will take place in 2017 after manufacturing, integration and testing is complete. The design certification will compare the actual final product to the rocket’s design. The final review, the flight readiness review, will take place just prior to the 2018 flight readiness date.

“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager. “Our team has worked extremely hard, and we are moving forward with building this rocket. We are qualifying hardware, building structural test articles, and making real progress.”

Critical design reviews for the individual SLS elements of the core stage, boosters and engines were completed successfully as part of this milestone. Also as part of the CDR, the program concluded the core stage of the rocket and Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter will remain orange, the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements, instead of painted white. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall and with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel for the rocket’s four RS-25 engines.

The integrated spacecraft and payloads are nearing completion on their CDR. Flight hardware currently is in production for every element. NASA is preparing for a second qualification test for the SLS boosters, and structural test articles for the core and upper stages of the rocket are either completed or currently in production. NASA also recently completed the first developmental test series on the RS-25 engines.

Future program reviews will focus on SLS integration and flight readiness. For more information on SLS, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/sls

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Word from Musk is that Raptor powered SHLV (i.e. BFR) will be fully reusable. I imagine they are hoping for circa 10 flights before major maintenance so $.5B is a little pessimistic. Also, I imagine for a wide body rocket the fraction of the manufacturing cost or the tankage/airframe increases, so even if they have to replace the engines every 10 flights the reusability savings on a large launcher could be even more significant than with Falcon. I’m kinda expecting 20-30+ Raptors under this thing, but they will be a lot more mass producible than a 7+ metre core.

  • DTARS

    Have wondered what the cost per pound could get down to with such a system.
    Lots of unknowns.
    Sure going to be interesting post barge landing.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I am prepared to make a fool of myself by bullshit guessing my way thru those variables. I suggest $300M build cost, another $300M maintenance and operations cost, 30 flight lifetime and 150 tonnes to LEO per launch. $660M for 4,500 tonnes to LEO works out at $133/kg ($60/lb.). Whether its’ possible without a few more decades of reusability experience, is questionable. But you’d have thought they must be aiming toward those sort of numbers and it is at least plausible.

    I have been wondering though. Raptor is now set for at 500,000 lbs., down from the original rumour of 1.5million. And Musk has admitted to MCT to be assembled and fuelled on orbit. Will BFR be targeted in the 50-100 tonnes. It may work out more cost efficient to have a smaller cheaper core, lower maintenance and operations cost and perhaps enhanced lifetime. I’m guessing a metal walled core might be more easily manufactured than carbon. SLS, even with its legacy design features is optimised for lift, whereas SpaceX, would optimise for cost and compromise on lift slightly. Once you can get towards 100 tonnes to LEO with full reusability, then costs are already quite low. Of course, the larger the core, the larger the potential payload volume, but expandable habs could solve that.

  • DTARS

    So 60 x 300 18000 could by you a trip to LEO

    Person and luggage 300 pounds

    Could you build a tourism industry with that

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Still sounds expensive to me, but better than 60,000 x 300lbs. = $18,000,000 by space shuttle. And apparently you can build a fledgling tourism industry to sub-orbital at $95000-$250000.

  • windbourne

    Which is is why I said LESS than .5b.

    Still, I have not been able to follow things so hearing the rest of this is interesting.

  • windbourne

    On your last sentence, paul allen, rutan, Bigelow, bezo, Carmack, and Branson all come to mind.
    Musk is simply in front for the moment, and can be quickly replaced by bezos or others.

  • windbourne

    Exactly right. When FH flies, and BFR fully announced, it will be hard for CONgress to keep flowing money to it. That is why GOP want to kill off spacex.

  • windbourne

    You do realize that the variable or incremental costs to launch the shuttle was 450B / flight in 2011. Right?
    Google for wiki criticisms of space shuttle.

  • windbourne

    How is NASA or O’s admin not serious about going to Mars? They are fighting the GOP to keep private space alivealive and NASA is creating a force of multiple companies that can and will ( barring the GOP win their fight to destroy private space ) go to the moon and Mars.

  • windbourne

    So, you claim to like capitalism, while wanting to see new space killed where they own, design, build rockets, space stations, etc, while pushing for gov owned projects, where all the expensive money continues to flow to large sucking the gov. Teat companies.
    Ah ah.
    So, you like capitalism in the same way that Putin, china , and current GOP leaders like it.

  • Vladislaw

    LOL .. and just WHEN was this “twin launch” supposed to happen anyway? … sheesh .. No lander, no habs, no … oh man.. what is the point talking to you …

  • Vladislaw

    You could not even put that much cargo into LEO at this time. Bigelow will have to have some stations up to hold that much cargo.

  • PK Sink

    Good one!

  • PK Sink

    I’m packing my luggage. But at this rate I might need an orbital nursing home waiting for me.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    You’re right, but it’s not about LEO it’s about destinations: LEO space stations, cislunar and lunar, Mars and beyond. Problem is, we won’t get any of those until launch prices start decreasing significantly. Certainly it appears to be a chicken and egg relationship with launch prices and flight rate. That’s why we need Musk and Bezos and why we need rid of the likes of ULA.

  • PK Sink

    I’m not a fan of ULA’s mafia-like business practices of intimidation and bribery. But I do like their history of launch reliability, and I do hope that working with XCOR and BO may drag them into the 21st century.

  • newpapyrus

    Space X is not going to Mars unless the tax payer pay for it! That’s pretty much Elon’s MO.

    Plus Space X hasn’t developed and isn’t developing anything that could actually get you to Mars.

    Marcel

  • newpapyrus

    The Space Shuttle derived Boeing/ATK heavy lift rocket will be the work horse of the solar system.

    And even Elon wants to build a super heavy lift rocket– because its the logical thing to do if you really want to pioneer and privateer the solar system.

    Marcel

  • windbourne

    Really? Do you have proof of ANY of these assertions?

  • newpapyrus

    The space shuttle could deliver more than 25 tonnes of payload to LEO plus 8 astronauts. Space X is charging the tax payers more than $133 million per flight just to deliver up to 3 tonnes of payload to the ISS per flight ($1.6 billion for 12 cargo runs). Wow!

    So it would cost the tax payers more than a billion dollars for the Falcon/Dragon to do what the Space Shuttle could do in a single launch. And it would cost at least another $133 million to send up to 7 astronauts to the ISS to nearly match the performance of a single Space Shuttle launch.

    The SLS would probably be able to deliver about six astronauts plus more than 40 tonnes of payload to the ISS per launch.

    So within NASA’s $8 billion a year human spaceflight related budget, the Space Shuttle program was an absolute bargain– especially compared to what Space X is providing.

    Marcel

  • windbourne

    First, For RUNNING a space station, total tonnage to ISS is NOT as important as a continual stream.

    Secondly, it costs 450B just for the shuttle flight (i.e. the fuel, the SRBs, the maintenance on the shuttle, etc). What that does not include is the massive fixed costs of the shuttle that you like to leave out. According to NASA, it was 1.25B per flight if you included incremental AND fixed costs.
    OTOH, it costs NASA 133M for all of that from SpaceX.
    As such, 12 flights of SpaceX, even at 1.6B, is cheap.

    Third, when the shuttle failed, we lost skylab, space for several years, and then was dependent on Russia for ISS access.
    Why? Because the massive costs of the shuttle prevents us from affording MULTIPLE smaller companies that provide access.

    Rather than having NASA waste money on building launchers, far better for CONgress to spend NASA money on doing things like helping private space stations, helping with private missions to the moon and mars, as well as doing ARM which private space will NOT do.