NASA announced the design for the Space Launch System (SLS), an heavy-lift vehicle which has the potential to provide the capability for exploration beyond Earth orbit. The SLS is designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, along with cargo and equipment for deep space exploration. “This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world,” said Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, “While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.”
The SLS design incorporates technologies from the Space Shuttle Program, like the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system based on RS-25D/E, and from the Apollo/Saturn Program, like the J-2X engine used for the upper stage. The initial SLS configuration will also use solid rocket boosters like the one ATK developed for the now defunct Constellation program.
The first configuration will have a lift capacity of 70 metric tons; following configurations will be able to lift up to 130 metric tons to LEO. The first developmental flight is tentatively scheduled for the end of 2017.