NASA is planning the most powerful rocket engine ever called the Space Launch System (SLS). It will be the largest and most powerful engine ever built and is targeted for testing in 2017. At a cost of over $18 billion this new system sounds expensive but includes the cost the first three flights. SLS will use technology from the Space Shuttle program including the main engines and the solid rocket motors.
SLS Innovative Design & Comparison to Saturn 5
One of the critical innovations of the new SLS design is to go back to a vertical design where components of the rocket are vertically integrated, making it simpler than the Space Shuttle which carried the shuttle “piggyback”.
The SLS is currently designed to have three engines but this number could grow to five according to NASA. The SLS will be capable of lifting 70 metric tons or 10% more thrust than Saturn V. Expansion of the advanced boosters will provide lifting capacity up to 130 metric tons or 20% more thrust than Saturn V.The Saturn V was 363 feet tall and the SLS will be about 40 feet taller. The Saturn V was used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs from 1967 to 1973 and was the only rocket that has taken humans out of low Earth orbit and to the moon. Following is a take-off animation of the SLS!
SLS will look a bit like Saturn V and the Space Shuttle but advancements in manufacturing will make SLS a much more efficient system with advanced nozzle materials and newer and greener technologies. NASA expects the system to be more reliable and easier to operate than the Space Shuttle.
SLS Comparison with SpaceX Falcon System
SLS appears to be a superior vehicle in terms of maximum capacity but the SLS price tag is very high. Some engineers have estimated that the SpaceX Falcon may be able to have 10+ flights for the cost of a single SLS launch. Additionally the SLS’s more advanced performance capabilities may not be needed; it may be cheaper to use a smaller lift vehicles.
In a recent in-depth article on IndustryTap we looked at the life and career of SpaceX founder Elon Musk whose goal is to go to Mars.