Could it work for spaceflight? And what’s the trade off? Read On
The answer is pretty obvious. In the near term, the Space Launch System booster will allow Orion to move at its full cruise speed of around 300 mph, which is more speed than its Apollo-era predecessor can currently reach. Orion will then be capable of reaching the height of Mars or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn on a single flight, which is a massive leap from the Orion crew capsule that has to be launched in its current design. And yes, its engine will be a liquid oxygen-fueled, pressurized version of the one used on the ISS, but NASA plans to get to that point by the mid-2020s.
But there are several other points to note on this timeline. The first is that the U.S. government continues to invest millions of dollars into the development of new rockets. According to the agency’s website, the development of the Space Launch System and Orion is on track to exceed $4 billion, “most of which will go to the production of the crew and cargo capsules and the associated launch complex and subsystems.” The next development program of the program is the Space Launch System Heavy Lift Boosters (SSLHB). This is where the money will come from. It was originally designed to deliver small payloads for the Space Shuttle, but NASA decided to use it to launch more heavy-lift rockets. It is now a fully-functioning rocket. And when it is designed, it will be able to deliver both the new Orion, and other heavy-lift rockets to low Earth orbit.
“For NASA, we’re looking for the big rockets. We don’t have the money to go for smaller, more incremental projects,” explained John Grunsfeld, NASA budget director and a major booster supporter. “If we don’t have this big, powerful rocket to the moon, we’re all done. It’s just that simple.”
It comes down to price. Launch costs per pound of payload have dramatically increased in recent years. The Space Shuttle program cost around $10 million per pound (before launch) and the Orion program costs around $15 million per pound. So a large upgrade such as the Space Launch System could easily cost NASA as much as $10 billion.
According to NASA officials, when NASA was asked how the SLS would price versus other proposed rockets, they told us that “we have no idea.” The launch costs are on the table as long as the SLS is