Almost Spaceworthy

(Artist rendering courtesy of NASA)

(Artist rendering courtesy of NASA)

Low Earth Orbit, here we come again — someday:

“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.

The Block II configuration is supposed to rival the Saturn V for heavy lift, nearly doubling the Block I’s lift to 130 metric tons. But the more I read of the messy development program, the more I worry that Block II won’t be delivered as hoped.