Four companies will split $200 million in NASA funds to study concepts for the side-mounted boosters needed to power future configurations of the planned heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), the U.S. space agency said July 13.

The selected companies will now begin contract negotiations with NASA, the agency said in a press release. Awards for the 30-month study contracts are due in October, said NASA spokeswoman Kim Henry. NASA will use the results of the studies it funds to develop a solicitation for the next-generation SLS booster system. That solicitation is due out in 2015, according to NASA’s press release.

SLS is the congressionally mandated heavy-lift rocket NASA is designing for future deep-space missions. Early SLS flights will launch with five-segment solid rocket boosters developed by ATK Launch Systems of Magna, Utah, for the cancelled Constellation program.

Future SLS configurations, however, must be able to lift 130 metric tons to low Earth orbit. To do that, SLS will need new boosters that are more powerful than the ATK-developed solids. These next-generation boosters could be either solid- or liquid-fueled, NASA has said.

The four selected companies are:

  • Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, which proposed a subscale composite tank set.
  • Aerojet General Corp., which proposed a full-scale combustion stability demonstration.
  • Dynetics Inc., which submitted three winning proposals for risk reduction work on the Apollo-era F-1 engine, a main propulsion system, and booster structures.
  • ATK Launch Systems, which proposed a static test of an integrated booster.

In its first two flights, scheduled for 2017 and 2021, an SLS capable of lifting 70 metric tons to orbit will send the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule around the Moon and back. Only the second flight will carry astronauts.



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