NASA is trying to reduce the cost of production and operation of its SLS megarakety

Space agency NASA reported that one of the most reliable parts of its huge new rocket superheavy Space Launch System ( "System of Space Launch") is her first booster unit, which partly uses technology well time-tested, writes portal Ars Technica. For example, such technologies are the engines, which were used even during the space shuttle program, as well as two lateral auxiliary accelerator of the first stage through which the agency can be sure that when SLS rocket takes off, then it will do it confidently.

NASA is trying to reduce the cost of production and operation of its SLS megarakety

However, one of the main problems with the use of obsolete equipment, the production of which is entrusted to companies such as Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne, is its cost. It is too expensive. Despite the lack of official data from NASA's, experts calculate that the cost of one launch of the carrier rocket SLS can reach 1, 5-2, 5 billion dollars. But a few years ago were much more optimistic forecasts - about $ 500 million. In general, it is so expensive that in fact leaves room for only one or two SLS launches per year.

Space agency is well aware of this problem and, therefore, in the past has tried to attract the ideas, which would reduce the cost of production of the launch vehicle and its operation. Apparently, the effective results it ultimately failed. So now, NASA has started to become more active and is ready to consider alternative solutions, relying on outsourcing. As one of such companies outsourcing NASA space agency is considering a private Blue Origin, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos. NASA attracted by the idea of ​​using potentially cheaper rocket engines offered by this company.

the SLS and the second step

NASA is trying to reduce the cost of production and operation of its SLS megarakety

Various configurations launcher SLS

In the first stage of the carrier rocket SLS used two auxiliary accelerator that will provide output rocket into low Earth orbit. Further in the case will come accelerator booster second stage, which will be used to pull payload from low orbit and sent toward its final destination: the Moon, Mars or one of the moons of Jupiter, Europe.

In the first official launch, which is likely to take place no earlier than 2020, the SLS vehicle will be equipped with a temporary version of the second stage. Currently, the agency is developing "an experimental second stage", which allows you to use different configurations of the upper stage, have different capacity. First start with the basic second stage will take place in 2023-2024, respectively. According to the accepted technical documents in the second stage it is planned to use four liquid-propellant rocket engine RL-10, has repeatedly proved its reliability since their first use in 1961.

The problem is that developed and collected by Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10 engines are very expensive. Ars Technica reporters found out that on average, for each engine RL-10, which will be used in the first test launch, NASA had to pay $ 17 million. Agency, this situation does not seem to accept, and in October it made an open offer to private space companies: find a cheaper alternative to reduce the production cost of the launch vehicle. In the published document stated that in order to prepare for the third flight (Exploration Mission-3) carrier rocket SLS agency requires four rocket engines by the middle of 2023. What is interesting, as early as mid-November, the agency edited document. Now it says that NASA is not looking for "cheaper alternative" RL-10 engines, and "substitution". Despite the fact that at first glance this may seem like an ordinary lexical stylistic device, portal Ars Technica, citing anonymous sources from the space industry, said that the change in the terminology used, says a lot. In other words, NASA further refuse RL-10 engines. According to the official agency comments on the matter, but document editing is done with an eye to attracting a larger number of stakeholders.

Finest Hour Blue Origin

Some spotted in NASA document thus attempt to hint of the same Aerojet Rocketdyne that her RL-10 engines would be cheaper. Others say that this message Agency indicates that it is ready for changes in the design of most of the second stage and is open to suggestions with a different set of engines. And if so, NASA's, most likely, will choose engines BE-3U, writes Ars Technica. The company Blue Origin plans to use them in the second stage of its heavy carrier rocket New Glenn. They are a modified version of the engine BE-3 is used as the main engines of the rocket accelerator New Shepard, which the company plans to use as a tourist and is already successfully flown (while, however, as part of the test) 7 times. By the way, it should be noted that the same Orbital ATK also examines engines BE-3U as the main system for the second stage of its booster rocket designed Next Generation Launch System. Opting for the BE-3U is caused by the fact that the engine is capable of producing 120,000 pounds of thrust, while the RL-10 offers only 100 000. It is unclear how many and which companies have responded to the call of NASA's, but the collection of proposals ended on 15 December.