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April 23, 2012

NASA Space Launch System Booster Program Gets Competitive

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


As NASA's future "Big Rocket," the Space Launch System (SLS), continues to move forward, companies are lining up with proposals to supply the system's strap-boosters. A team from Dynetics and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) recently declared its intention to use Saturn V F-1 rocket engine technology, while Aerotek (News - Alert) has indicated it will offer both solid and liquid options.

SLS is designed to be a modular system able to deliver anywhere from 70 to 130 tons into low earth orbit (LEO) , with heavier missions adding a pair of strap-on booster rockets to a larger core system. NASA intends to fly some of the first SLS launches with existing ATK (News - Alert) five-segment solid rocket boosters, but plans to have a range of options moving forward.

Huntsville Alabama-based Dynetics and PWR announced their partnership at the National Space Symposium last week. The team has proposed a liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene booster that would use a pair of Saturn V F-1 rocket engines. 

“The SLS booster procurement requires a team that can balance affordability, innovation and experience throughout the life cycle – from development to production and operations,” said Steve Cook, Dynetics director of space technologies. “Dynetics and PWR have formed such a team, offering a wide-ranging set of risk-reduction activities and demonstrations that enable a superior booster solution.”

Last built and flown during the Apollo moon program in the 1970s, a single F-1 rocket engine delivered over 1.5 million pounds of thrust per engine at sea level. Five F-1 engines were used in the first stage of the Saturn V rocket.

PWR is no stranger to tapping into Saturn-era engine technologies for the SLS project. Today's J-2X (News - Alert) liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine in testing for the SLS second stage traces its heritage back to Saturn 1-B and Saturn V rockets. Five first-generation J-2 engines were used in the Saturn V second stage.

“The high-cost non-recurring engineering typical of engine development was accomplished during the Apollo-Saturn program, and significant risks (e.g., turbopump design and combustion stability) were eliminated, so our team can focus on booster affordability rather than technical feasibility,” Cook said.

But Dynetics and PWR aren't the only company planning to offer an SLS booster. ATK continues to plan to offer solid rocket boosters, building upon its experience with the space shuttle and five segment solids for SLS. Aerotek is planning on bidding both solid and liquid booster designs for SLS, the latter using its Russian-heritage but built-in-the-USA AJ-26 engines.




Edited by Braden Becker



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