NASA is in the process of submitting to Congress its path forward to comply with the mandate for a human-rated, heavy-lift Space Launch System (). Under its Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology Systems Analysis and Trade Study program, NASA tasked 13 companies, including Boeing, to perform various vehicle architecture trade studies, which were provided to the Marshall Space Flight Center in May. Both NASA and industry have considered numerous options from an architecture perspective, and all agree that the ability to accelerate 50 metric tons to escape velocity is required to support deep space exploration. The primary decisions NASA must make are which rocket variant will best meet the requirements, what evolutionary path it will take and when it can be made available.
NASA’s approach for concurrent development of the first stage and upper cryogenic stages maximizes commonality and reduces costs. It also leverages previous investments in the Ares 1 upper stage, avionics, J-2X engine and the solid-rocket boosters. At the same time, it enables competitive on-ramps of higher-performing solid- and liquid-propulsion technologies to further increase capability. This approach will achieve the desired end-state system performance and provide a truly “evolvable rocket.” We agree that by building on these investments, the resulting incremental approach is the most affordable, sustainable and reliable response to meet all requirements for the nation’s next-generation human-rated launch system.
Boeing continues to make excellent progress on the Ares Upper Stage and Avionics contracts, which were awarded in 2007 through full and open competition. We have worked closely with NASA to reprioritize work within our contracts to ensure it is applicable to cryogenic propulsive stage design in support of the SLS. Our flexible tooling, which is currently in place at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, can be adapted to build multiple diameter structures that will enable the required 50 metric tons to escape velocity. Manufacturing processes exist to begin to build this SLS hardware now. On June 7, Boeing hosted a manufacturing demonstration at Michoud, highlighting our innovative welding process for the Pathfinder liquid oxygen tank, a key milestone toward NASA’s immediate production readiness to transition to the SLS program.
In addition, Boeing announced in June the establishment of our new office near Kennedy Space Center, where we are supporting launch operational readiness with a focus on executing our current engineering and integration contract efforts.
As a nation, we have stopped and started many NASA programs in the last decade and made little progress on our ability to explore deep space. Further delay would be costly to America’s leadership position in space. Boeing is prepared to move forward today with existing hardware, innovative tooling and a highly skilled work force, uniquely experienced in human-rated launch systems. We stand ready to support the nation in the next great chapter of human exploration of our solar system. The time for SLS development is now!
Brewster Shaw is vice president and general manager of Boeing Space Exploration.