The solar system is about to become our new back yard.
Nobody has traveled beyond Earth’s orbit in 40 years.
This may be about to change.
NASA is looking at sending us around the moon.
This would be step one to getting us to Mars.
The planning has just begun. Expect further details next month.
The objective is to explore deeper space, with a more ambitious plan to “Unlock the mysteries of space.”
The Space Launch System, SLS, is the next generation of space travel since the space shuttle program, which ended six years ago.
The Boeing produced SLS launch vehicle will have a similar trust as the Saturn 5 rocket used in the Apollo program to go to the moon in the late 60s, and early 70s.
The plan for the SLS was to upgrade it over time, increasing it power with each new version.
Block 1 Version would be able to lift 70 metric ton payloads into low Earth orbit, LEO using shuttle derived boosters.
Block 2 version will be able to lift 130 metric ton payloads into LEO and be able to escape Earth gravity for exploratory mission to the moon and beyond.
The total cost was projected back in 2011 to be $18 Billion. Thats, $10 Billion for the rocket, $2 Billion for the launch pad upgrades, and $6 Billion for the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle.
The Lockheed Martin produced Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle, MPCV, is being built to carry four passengers, to the International Space Station, the moon, and even Mars.
It’s first test flight was in December 2014. It was not planned to have anyone onboard until 2023 at the earliest.
The Trump administration however is asking NASA to launch a crew next year, or early 2018. And, it has yet to appoint a NASA Administrator.
So NASA may now be faced with planning a crewed launch on an untested rocket.
The new mission around the moon could include the Orion Capsule, with a two person crew.
The trip would take less that ten days.
Questions still remain however, since United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and Blue Origin are also planning heavy rockets that may launch much cheaper than the SLS, rendering it obsolete right out of the gate.
Perhaps the move is to help prove that the more expensive SLS has a purpose, to be part of the first mission to land humans on Mars.
All of this is still in the air, not signed off, but very exciting.
There doesn’t appear to be any real pressure to do this. It’s just a feasibility study.
Of course, with India breaking launching records, and China preparing to go to Mars, it should be no surprise that others are raising the bar in this new 21st century space race.
Thank you for reading.