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A dramatic week in space launcher politics has left NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) with a vastly reduced launch manifesto and casts doubt on the prospects of future upgrades to the massive launch vehicle.
On Monday the White House’s budget request laid out the administration’s plans for NASA’s coming years. For SLS there were three significant changes.
SLS - Planned - Upgrades - Deferred
SLS Planned Upgrades, Now Deferred.
Firstly, the budget request deferred the development of upgrades from the the initial Block 1 design to future years, with the agency instructed to focus on getting the vehicle flying first. In its current form, the upper stage is called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) and it’s essentially a repackaged version of a Delta IV upper stage using a single RL-10 engine fueled by 25 tons of propellant. With this upper stage, the SLS is able to send the Orion Capsule and its service module around the moon.
SLS - Missions - Exploration - Mission - EM-1
This is sufficient for the first two planned SLS missions, Exploration Mission 1 & 2 (EM-1 & EM-2), first sending an uncrewed capsule on month long excursion to cislunar space in 2020, and subsequently sending a crew on a similar voyage in 2022.
The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage flight article, a modified version of the Delta IV upper stage.
Plan - SLS - Block - Stage - Engines
Beyond this, the plan had been to develop SLS Block 1B which would have an upgraded 2nd stage powered by 4 RL-10 engines and carrying over 100 tons of propellant. This upper stage would be able to launch an Orion and a module for the Lunar Gateway on the same lunar trajectory. Without the EUS the SLS becomes a more limited launch vehicle.
The second big change to SLS is a direct consequence of the EUS being unavailable, launches of lunar gateway components would be switched to commercial launch providers like ULA, SpaceX and potentially Blue Origin....
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