NASA might have been told to leave the near-earth stuff to the Russians and private companies but that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t have its orders to explore beyond our moon, so while the shuttle has been mothballed and the Soyuz takes up the transport duties NASA has unveiled its next-gen rocket.
The new Space Launch System, as it is being called, is another part of the larger Deep Space Transportation System that will be used as the launch vehicle for the six-man Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle capsule. It will use the same kind of fuel as NASA’s old V rockets which will make it more powerful as well as more expensive, allowing for few builds and launches per year.
It will also be able to lug far heavier payloads into space than the shuttle fleet was able to, or any current NASA rocket for that matter. The shuttles could take 27 tons at most, and NASA’s beefiest unmanned rockets top out at 25. The SLS will carry up to 110 tons of cargo to start, with the aim of taking a payload of more than 150 tons in the future. That would put it in the running with SpaceX’sFalcon Heavy for king of the rockets, which it looks like NASA’s SLS would win.
NASA hopes to have the SLS ready for test flights in six years, with the aim of ultimately sending amanned mission to Mars by the 2030s. Along the way, NASA officials — speaking anonymously to the New York Times — said that this road map would include the first unmanned tests by 2017, the first crew flight in 2021, sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, and finally circling Mars and putting boots on the red planet by the 2030s.
Given the current political climate and any real lack of will when it comes to a viable space program I’m not expecting much out of this program from NASA; but we can dream can’t we.