NASA Gains Approval of Mars-Flight Capable Vehicle, Disapproves Launch Pad Plans Elsewhere

The most powerful rocket ever built by humans has passed a critical test on its way to help facilitate the first ever manned Mars mission, sometime in the future.

The Space Launch System [SLS], a NASA human-rated (capable) rocket has, for the first time in nearly four decades, come through to clear a critical design review [CDR] in one of the rocket’s three main configurations.

The complete fact sheet of the SLS is available here [PDF].

The results come nearly two months after the NASA’s program, and its official findings were reviewed by a board of independent industry experts. More than 1,000 SLS documents were looked by 13 different teams of senior engineers and experts in aerospace within NASA and outside the agency, to complete a rigorous and exhaustive review process. Over 150 GB of data was also looked into, as a part of the review, revealed a press release by NASA.

Bill Hill, the deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division, said:

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 Space Launch System – Our Ride to Mars

By completing the CDR, the Space Launch System became the first rocket since the Saturn V to pass the review test.

In order to ensure that the SLS is future-proof, it is designed to detach and re-attach itself to three different configurations, each one more powerful than the last. The first SLS rocket configuration deemed Block 1 has successfully passed the critical design review.

SLS Block 1

Block 1 Highlights:

  • With a 77-ton minimum lift capability, the Block 1 configuration is powered by twin solid rocket boosters and four liquid propellant engines.
  • In the first mission – Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), this configuration will be used to launch an unmanned Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon and back to test the SLS rocket coupled with the Orion before a crewed flight.
  • A second mission, called Exploration Mission-2 will launch the entire operation again, this time with a crew of four astronauts to the vicinity of the moon.

Upon the completion of the review, SLS program manager John Honeycutt said:

“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS.”

SLS configurations

The Block 1B planned to be the next configuration in the natural evolution of the SLS will house a more powerful Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for more ambitious missions with both crew and cargo.

Block 1B Highlights:

  • This configuration is capable of delivering an 115-ton lift capacity.
  • Pushing the boundaries further, humans will be launched into space with the Block 1B configuration to the “proving ground” of space. That would count for space near and beyond the moon.
  • While venturing far out into space, farther than man has ever been before, NASA will also test its instruments and systems for a sustained Mars flight.

Black 2 is when the world will be watching collectively. It is the configuration that will be used by astronauts for a mission to Mars, with a 143-ton lift capacity.

Elsewhere, NASA Aborts Plans of a Commercial Launch Pad

After a separate review process of proposals, NASA has decided against awarding two potential sites for the development of commercial vehicle launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center.

Citing reason that “the market wasn’t sufficiently mature to make the commitment NASA sought,” the agency said, as reported by Florida Today.

The Kennedy Space Center currently has two pads, named 39A and 39B, both of which were originally built to facilitate launches of the Saturn V rockets and the subsequent space shuttle program.

SpaceX has taken a lease for pad 39A from NASA currently to launch Falcon rockets and deliver astronauts to the International Space Station.

Featured image from NASA/MSFC, images from NASA.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.