An artist's rendering of SLS Block 1 with Orion spacecraft on the pad before launch.
|Function||Super heavy-lift launch vehicle|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Project cost||US$18.6 billion (as of 2020)|
|Cost per launch||Over US$2 billion excluding development [note 1]|
|Cost per year||US$2.5 billion for 2020 |
|Height||111.25 m (365.0 ft), Block 2 Cargo|
|Diameter||8.4 m (28 ft), core stage|
|Payload to LEO[altitude and inclination needed]|
|Payload to Moon|
|Status||November 2021 |
|Launch sites||Kennedy Space Center, LC-39B|
|First flight||Artemis 1|
|Boosters (Block 1, 1B)|
|No. boosters||2 five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters|
|Length||177 ft (54 m) |
|Gross mass||1,600,000 lb (730,000 kg) |
|Thrust||14,600 kN (3,280,000 lbf) sea level|
16,000 kN (3,600,000 lbf) vacuum
|Total thrust||29,200 kN (6,560,000 lbf) sea level|
32,000 kN (7,200,000 lbf) vacuum 
|Specific impulse||269 s (2.64 km/s)|
|Burn time||126 seconds|
|First stage (Block 1, 1B, 2) – Core stage|
|Length||65 m (212 ft) |
|Diameter||8.4 m (27.6 ft)|
|Empty mass||85,270 kg (187,990 lb)|
|Gross mass||979,452 kg (2,159,322 lb)|
|Engines||4 RS-25D/E |
|Thrust||7,440 kN (1,670,000 lbf)|
|Specific impulse||363 s (3.56 km/s) (sea level)|
452 s (4.43 km/s) (vacuum)
|Burn time||480 seconds|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
|Second stage (Block 1) – ICPS|
|Length||13.7 m (45 ft)|
|Diameter||5 m (16 ft)|
|Empty mass||3,490 kg (7,690 lb)|
|Gross mass||30,710 kg (67,700 lb)|
|Thrust||110.1 kN (24,800 lbf)|
|Specific impulse||462 s (4.53 km/s)|
|Burn time||1125 seconds|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
|Second stage (Block 1B, Block 2) – Exploration Upper Stage|
|Length||17.6 m (58 ft)|
|Diameter||8.4 m (28 ft)|
|Thrust||440 kN (99,000 lbf)|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
The Space Launch System (SLS) is an American Space Shuttle-derived super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which has been under development by NASA in the United States since its announcement in 2011. It will be the primary launch vehicle of NASA's deep space exploration plans, including the planned crewed lunar flights of the Artemis program and a possible follow-on human mission to Mars. The SLS program has replaced the Constellation program's Ares V launch vehicle program of 2005, which never left the development phase. SLS is intended to replace the retired Space Shuttle as NASA's flagship vehicle. Following the cancellation of the Constellation program, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 envisioned a single launch vehicle usable for both crew and cargo. In 2013, SLS was projected to possibly be the most capable super-heavy lift vehicle ever built.
The initial variant of SLS, Block 1, was required by the U.S. Congress to lift a payload of 70 t (69 long tons; 77 short tons) to low Earth orbit (LEO), but it was later planned to exceed that requirement with a rated payload capacity of 95 t (93 long tons; 105 short tons). As of 22 December 2019[update], this variant is planned to launch Artemis 1, Artemis 2, Artemis 3, and Europa Clipper. The later Block 1B is intended to debut the Exploration Upper Stage and launch the notional Artemis 4 through Artemis 7. Block 2 is planned to replace the initial Shuttle-derived boosters with advanced boosters and would have a LEO capability of more than 130 t (130 long tons; 140 short tons), again as required by Congress. Block 2 is intended to enable crewed launches to Mars. SLS is to have the world's highest-ever total LEO payload capability, but not the world's highest ever injection mass. The SLS is planned to launch the Orion spacecraft and use the ground operations and launch facilities at NASA's iconic Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket will use the Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. The rocket's first launch is currently scheduled on November 2021.
The SLS is a Space Shuttle-derived launch vehicle, with the first stage of the rocket being powered by one central core stage and two outboard boosters. The upper stage is being developed from the Block 1 variant to a Block 2 variant, the Exploration Upper Stage.
The Space Launch System's core stage contains the Main Propulsion System (MPS) of the rocket. It is 65 metres (212 ft) long by 8.4 metres (27.6 ft) in diameter and fuels the four RS-25 rocket engines at its base. The core stage is structurally and visually similar to the Space Shuttle external tank, containing the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer. Initial flights are planned to use modified RS-25D engines left over from the Space Shuttle program. However, Space Shuttle main engines are reusable, so later flights are planned to switch to a different version of the engine not designed for reuse, as it will be cheaper.
The core stage is fabricated at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility and is common across all currently planned evolutions of the SLS to avoid the need for redesigns to meet varying requirements.
Blocks 1 and 1B of the SLS are planned to use two five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). These new SRBs are derived from the four-segment Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, with the addition of a center booster segment, new avionics, and lighter insulation. The five-segment SRBs provide approximately 25% more total impulse than the Shuttle SRB, but will no longer be recovered after use.
The stock of SLS boosters is limited by the number of casings left over from the Shuttle program, since they modify flown boosters to add an additional segment. There are enough to last through eight flights of the SLS, but a replacement will be required for further flights. On 2 March 2019, the Booster Obsolescence and Life Extension (BOLE) program was announced. This program will use new solid rocket boosters built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems for further SLS flights. These boosters would be derived from the composite-casing SRBs in development for the OmegA launch vehicle, and are projected to increase Block 1B's payload to TLI by 3–4 tonnes, which is still 1 ton below the payload capacity of Block 2.
The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) is planned to fly on Artemis 1. It is a stretched and human rated Delta IV 5 metres (16 ft) Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) powered by a single RL10B-2. Block 1 is intended to be capable of lifting 95 tonnes to LEO in this configuration if the ICPS is considered part of the payload. Artemis 1 is to be launched into an initial 1,800 by −93 kilometres (1,118 by −58 mi) suborbital trajectory to ensure safe disposal of the core stage. ICPS will then perform an orbital insertion burn at apogee and a subsequent translunar injection burn to send Orion towards the moon. The ICPS for Artemis 1 was delivered by ULA to NASA about July 2017, and was housed at Kennedy Space Centre as of November 2018. As of February 2020[update], ICPS (not EUS) is planned for Artemis 1, 2, and 3. ICPS will now be human-rated for the crewed Artemis-2 flight.
The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) is planned to fly on Artemis 4. Similar to the S-IVB, the EUS will complete the SLS ascent phase and then re-ignite to send its payload to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. It is expected to be used by Block 1B and Block 2, share the core stage diameter of 8.4 meters, and be powered by four RL10 engines.
|SLS variant||Payload mass to...|
|Low Earth orbit (LEO)||Trans-lunar injection (TLI)||Heliocentric orbit (HCO)|
|Block 1||95 tonnes (93 long tons; 105 short tons)||26 tonnes (26 long tons; 29 short tons)|
|Block 1B||105 tonnes (103 long tons; 116 short tons)||40 t|
|Block 2||130 tonnes (130 long tons; 140 short tons)||45 t ||45 tonnes (44 long tons; 50 short tons)|
The SLS is planned to have the ability to tolerate a minimum of 13 tanking cycles due to launch scrubs and other launch delays before launch. The assembled rocket is to be able to remain at the launch pad for at least 180 days and can remain in a stacked configuration for at least 200 days.
During the joint Senate-NASA presentation in September 2011, it was stated that the SLS program had a projected development cost of US$18 billion through 2017, with US$10 billion for the SLS rocket, US$6 billion for the Orion spacecraft and US$2 billion for upgrades to the launch pad and other facilities at Kennedy Space Center. These costs and schedule were considered optimistic in an independent 2011 cost assessment report by Booz Allen Hamilton for NASA.
An internal 2011 NASA document estimated the cost of the program through 2025 to total at least $41 billion for four 95-tonne launches (1 uncrewed, 3 crewed), with the 130-tonne version ready no earlier than 2030.
The Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) estimated unit costs for Block 0 at US$1.6 billion and Block 1 at US$1.86 billion in 2010. However, since these estimates were made the Block 0 SLS vehicle was dropped in late 2011, and the design was not completed.
In September 2012, an SLS deputy project manager stated that US$500 million per launch is a reasonable target cost[clarification needed] for SLS.
In 2013, the Space Review estimated the cost per launch at US$5 billion, depending on the rate of launches. NASA announced in 2013 that the European Space Agency will build the Orion service module.
Several companies proposed boosters for this competition:
In 2013, the manager of NASA's SLS advanced development office indicated that all three approaches were viable.
However, this competition was planned for a development plan in which Block 1A would be followed by Block 2A, with upgraded boosters. NASA canceled Block 1A and the planned competition in April 2014. Due to this cancellation, it was reported in February 2015 that SLS is expected to fly with the original five-segment SRB until at least the late 2020s. This decision was vindicated as a later study found that the advanced booster would have resulted in unsuitably high acceleration. The overly powerful booster would need modifications to Launch Pad 39B, its flame trench, and Mobile Launcher, which are being evaluated.
In August 2014, as the SLS program passed its Key Decision Point C review and entered full development, costs from February 2014 until its planned launch in September 2018 were estimated at US$7.021 billion. Ground systems modifications and construction would require an additional US$1.8 billion over the same time period.
In October 2018, NASA's inspector general reported that the Boeing core stage contract had made up 40% of the US$11.9 billion spent on SLS as of August 2018. By 2021, core stages were expected to have cost a total of US$8.9 billion, which is twice the initially planned amount.
In December 2018, NASA estimated that yearly budgets for SLS will range from US$2.1 to US$2.3 billion between 2019 and 2023.
In March 2019, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request for NASA. This budget did not include any money for the Block 1B and Block 2 variants of SLS. It was therefore uncertain whether these future variants of SLS will be developed, but congressional action restored this funding in the passed budget. Several launches previously planned for the SLS Block 1B are now expected to fly on commercial launcher vehicles such as Falcon Heavy, New Glenn, OmegA, and Vulcan. However, the request for a budget increase of US$1.6 billion towards SLS, Orion, and crewed landers along with the launch manifest seem to indicate support of the development of Block 1B, debuting Artemis 3. The Block 1B will be used mainly for co-manifested crew transfers and logistical needs rather than constructing the Gateway. An uncrewed Block 1B is planned to launch the Lunar Surface Asset in 2028, the first lunar outpost of the Artemis program. Block 2 development will most likely start in the late 2020s after NASA is regularly visiting the lunar surface and shifts focus towards Mars.
In May 2019, NASA's Office of Audits reported that the SLS Block 1's marginal cost per launch is to be at least US$876 million. By comparison, a Saturn V launch cost roughly $1.23 billion in 2016 dollars. A letter from the White House to the Senate Appropriations Committee revealed that the SLS's cost per launch is estimated at "over US$2 billion" after development. NASA did not deny this cost and an agency spokesperson stated it "is working to bring down the cost of a single SLS launch in a given year as the agency continues negotiations with Boeing on the long-term production contract and efforts to finalize contracts and costs for other elements of the rocket".
Blue Origin submitted a proposal to replace the Exploration Upper Stage with an alternative to be designed and fabricated by the company, but it was rejected by NASA in November 2019 on multiple grounds. These included lower performance compared to the existing EUS design, unsuitability of the proposal to current ground infrastructure, and unacceptable acceleration in regards to Orion components.
For fiscal years 2011 through 2020, the SLS program had expended funding totaling US$18.648 billion in nominal dollars. This is equivalent to US$20.314 billion in 2020 dollars using the NASA New Start Inflation Indices.
For fiscal year 2021, US$2.257 billion.
|Fiscal Year||Funding (nominal, in millions)||Funding (In US$2020, in millions)||Status|
(Formal SLS Program reporting excludes the Fiscal 2011 budget.)
|2011–2020||Total: $18,648 M||Total: $20,314 M|
Also excluded from the above SLS costs are:
Included in the above SLS costs are:
There are no current NASA estimates for the average costs per flight of SLS, nor for the SLS program recurring yearly costs once operational. In 2016, the projected annual cost for Orion, SLS, and ground systems was US$2 billion or less. NASA associate administrator William H. Gerstenmaier has said that per flight cost estimates will not be provided by NASA.
On 1 May 2020, NASA awarded a contract extension to Aerojet Rocketdyne to manufacture 18 additional RS-25 engines with associated services for US$1.79 billion, bringing the total RS-25 contract value to almost US$3.5 billion.
From 2009 to 2011, three full-duration static fire tests of five-segment SRBs were conducted under the Constellation Program, including tests at low and high core temperatures, to validate performance at extreme temperatures. The 5-segment SRB would be carried over to SLS.
During the early development of the SLS a number of configurations were considered, including a Block 0 variant with three main engines, a Block 1A variant with upgraded boosters instead of the improved second stage, and a Block 2 with five main engines and the Earth Departure Stage, with up to three J-2X engines. In February 2015, it was determined that these concepts would exceed the congressionally mandated Block 1 and Block 1B baseline payloads.
On 14 September 2011, NASA announced the new launch system, which is intended to take the agency's astronauts farther into space than ever before and provide the cornerstone for future US human space exploration efforts in combination with the Orion spacecraft.
On 31 July 2013, the SLS passed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The review included not only the rocket and boosters but also ground support and logistical arrangements. On 7 August 2014, the SLS Block 1 passed a milestone known as Key Decision Point C and entered full-scale development, with an estimated launch date of November 2018.
In 2013, NASA and Boeing analyzed the performance of several EUS engine options. The analysis was based on a second-stage usable propellant load of 105 metric tons, and compared stages with four RL10 engines, two RL60 engines, or one J-2X engine.
In 2014, NASA also considered using the European Vinci instead of the RL10. The Vinci offers the same specific impulse but with 64% greater thrust, which would allow for the same performance at lower cost.
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems has completed full-duration static fire tests of the five-segment SRBs. Qualification Motor 1 (QM-1) was tested on 10 March 2015. Qualification Motor 2 (QM-2) was successfully tested on 28 June 2016.
As of 2020[update], three SLS versions are planned: Block 1, Block 1B, and Block 2. Each will use the same core stage with four main engines, but Block 1B will feature the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), and Block 2 will combine the EUS with upgraded boosters.
In mid-November 2014, construction of the first core stage hardware began using a new welding system in the South Vertical Assembly Building at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility. Between 2015 and 2017, NASA test fired RS-25 engines in preparation for use on SLS.
As of late 2015, the SLS program was stated to have a 70% confidence level for the first crewed Orion flight by 2023, and as of 2020[update], NASA is continuing to project 2023. While the SLS/Orion combination can do a lunar flyby mission, as is planned for Artemis 2 in 2023, the SLS/Orion has insufficient capacity to get the heavy Orion capsule into low lunar orbit and return to Earth.
Confidence article[clarification needed] builds for the core stage began on 5 January 2016 and were expected to be completed in late January of that year. Once completed the test articles were to be sent to ensure structural integrity at Marshall Spaceflight Center.[needs update] A structural test article of the ICPS was delivered in 2015. the core stage for Artemis 1 completed assembly in November 2019.
The first core stage left Michoud for comprehensive testing at Stennis in January 2020. The static firing test program at Stennis, known as the Green Run, will operate all the core stage systems simultaneously for the first time. Test 7 (of 8), the wet dress rehearsal, was carried out in Dec 2020, with the planned engine firing (test 8) expected in Jan 2021.
The intended uncrewed first flight of SLS has slipped multiple times: originally from late 2016 to October 2017, then to November 2018, then to 2019, then to June 2020, then to April 2021, and most recently to November 2021.
The SLS has been criticized on the basis of program cost, lack of commercial involvement, and the non-competitive nature of a vehicle legislated to use Space Shuttle components.
In 2009, the Augustine commission proposed a commercial 75 t (74 long tons; 83 short tons) launcher with lower operating costs, and noted that a 40–60 t (39–59 long tons; 44–66 short tons) launcher was the minimum required to support lunar exploration.
In 2011–2012, the Space Access Society, Space Frontier Foundation and The Planetary Society called for the cancellation of the project, arguing that SLS will consume the funds for other projects from the NASA budget. U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and others proposed that an orbital propellant depot should be developed and the Commercial Crew Development program accelerated instead. A NASA study that was not publicly released and another from the Georgia Institute of Technology showed this option to be possibly cheaper. In 2012, the United Launch Alliance also suggested using existing rockets with on-orbit assembly and propellant depots as needed. The lack of competition in the SLS design was highlighted. In the summer of 2019, a former ULA employee claimed that Boeing, NASA's prime contractor for SLS, viewed orbital refueling technology as a threat to SLS and blocked further investment in it.
In 2010, SpaceX's CEO Elon Musk claimed that his company could build a launch vehicle in the 140- to 150-tonne payload range for US$2.5 billion, or US$300 million (in 2010 dollars) per launch, not including a potential upper-stage upgrade. In the early 2010s, SpaceX went on to start development of SpaceX Starship, a planned fully reusable super-heavy launch system. Reusability is claimed to allow the lowest-cost super-heavy launcher ever made.[unreliable source] If the price per launch and payload capabilities for the Starship are anywhere near Musk's claimed capabilities, the rocket will be substantially cheaper than the SLS.
In 2011, Rep. Tom McClintock and other groups called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate possible violations of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), arguing that Congressional mandates forcing NASA to use Space Shuttle components for SLS are de facto non-competitive, single source requirements assuring contracts to existing Shuttle suppliers. Opponents of the heavy launch vehicle have critically used the name "Senate launch system". The Competitive Space Task Force, in September 2011, said that the new government launcher directly violates NASA's charter, the Space Act, and the 1998 Commercial Space Act requirements for NASA to pursue the "fullest possible engagement of commercial providers" and to "seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space".
In 2013, Chris Kraft, the NASA mission control leader from the Apollo era, expressed his criticism of the system as well. Lori Garver, former NASA Deputy Administrator, has called for canceling the launch vehicle alongside the Mars 2020 rover. Phil Plait has voiced his criticism of SLS in light of ongoing budget tradeoffs between the Commercial Crew Development and SLS budgets, also referring to earlier critiques by Garver.
In 2019, the Government Accountability Office found that NASA had awarded Boeing over US$200 million for service with ratings of good to excellent despite cost overruns and delays. As of 2020[update], the maiden launch of SLS is expected in 2021.
On 1 May 2020, NASA awarded a US$1.79 billion contract extension for the manufacture of 18 additional RS-25 engines. Ars Technica, in an article published on the same day, highlighted that over the entire RS-25 contract the price of each engine works out to US$146 million and that the total price for the four expendable engines used in each SLS launch will be more than US$580 million. They critically commented that for the cost of just one engine, six more powerful RD-180 engines could be purchased, or nearly an entire Falcon Heavy launch with two thirds of the SLS lift capacity.
Former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who oversaw the initial design and development of the SLS also voiced his criticism of the program in an interview with Politico in September 2020. Bolden stating that the "SLS will go away because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up". Bolden further stated "commercial entities are really going to build a heavy-lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS".
|Flight No.||Date / time (UTC)||Configuration||Payload||Orbit||Outcome|
|1||November 2021||Block 1 Crew||TLI||Planned|
|Uncrewed Maiden flight of the SLS, carrying the Artemis 1 mission hardware and cubesats for ten missions in the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CLSI), and three missions in the Cube Quest Challenge. The payloads will be sent on a trans-lunar injection trajectory.|
|2||August 2023||Block 1 Crew||
|Crewed, lunar flyby. Carrying the Artemis 2 mission hardware, along with numerous cubesats to be selected through the CSLI.|
|3||October 2024||Block 1 Crew||
|Crewed lunar rendezvous and landing. Carrying the Artemis 3 mission hardware.|
|4||2025[a]||Block 1 Cargo[a]||Jovian||Planned|
|Carrying the Europa Clipper spacecraft to Jupiter via a direct Hohmann transfer orbit.|
RS-25D engine testing at Stennis Space Center.
SLS Mobile Launcher
The Core Stage for the Space Launch System rocket for Artemis I
The Space Launch System Core Stage rolling out of the Michoud Facility for shipping to Stennis.
ICPS on the move
Block 1 configuration
Block 1B configuration
Block 2 configuration
"The White House number appears to include both the "marginal" cost of building a single SLS rocket as well as the "fixed" costs of maintaining a standing army of thousands of employees and hundreds of suppliers across the country. Building a second SLS rocket each year would make the per-unit cost "significantly less".Cite journal requires
estimated cost of over US$2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is completeThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
NASA and the Michoud team will shortly send the first fully assembled, 212-foot-tall core stage...27.6-feet-in-diameter tanks and barrels.This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
NASA, on the other hand, will have to add this capability to their SLS rocket, and Mr. Rosati said NASA is tracking that debut for the Artemis 3 mission in 2023.
At 26.5 tons, Orion and its Service Module are very heavy. Because of this girth, NASA's Space Launch System rocket cannot even get Orion all the way into low lunar orbit with enough maneuvering capability to get back to Earth.
42 USC 18322. SEC. 302 SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM AS FOLLOW-ON LAUNCH VEHICLE TO THE SPACE SHUTTLE ... (c) MINIMUM CAPABILITY REQUIREMENTS (1) IN GENERAL — The Space Launch System developed pursuant to subsection (b) shall be designed to have, at a minimum, the following: (A) The initial capability of the core elements, without an upper stage, of lifting payloads weighing between 70 tons and 100 tons into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit ... (2) FLEXIBILITY ... (Deadline) Developmental work and testing of the core elements and the upper stage should proceed in parallel subject to appro-priations. Priority should be placed on the core elements with the goal for operational capability for the core elements not later than December 31, 2016 ... 42 USC 18323. SEC. 303 MULTI-PURPOSE CREW VEHICLE (a) INITIATION OF DEVELOPMENT (1) IN GENERAL — The Administrator shall continue the development of a multi-purpose crew vehicle to be available as soon as practicable, and no later than for use with the Space Launch System ... (2) GOAL FOR OPERATIONAL CAPABILITY. It shall be the goal to achieve full operational capability for the transportation vehicle developed pursuant to this subsection by not later than December 31, 2016. For purposes of meeting such goal, the Administrator may undertake a test of the transportation vehicle at the ISS before that date.
BioSentinel is one of 13 cubesats flying aboard the Artemis 1 mission, which is currently targeted for mid-2020. [...] The other 12 cubesats flying aboard Artemis 1 are a diverse lot. For example, the Lunar Flashlight and Lunar IceCube missions will hunt for signs of water ice on the moon, and Near-Earth Asteroid Scout will use a solar sail to rendezvous with a space rock.
NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has awarded rides for three small spacecraft on the agency's newest rocket, and $20,000 each in prize money, to the winning teams of citizen solvers competing in the semi-final round of the agency’s Cube Quest Challenge.
...after the Space Launch System performs the Trans-Lunar Injection burn that sends the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and toward the Moon.
The Artemis 1 mission profile. Credit: NASA [...] The Artemis 1 mission will send the Orion spacecraft into a distant retrograde lunar orbit and back...
NASA is seeking proposals from U.S. small satellite developers to fly their CubeSat missions as secondary payloads aboard the SLS on the Artemis 2 mission under the agency's CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI).
NASA on Aug. 5 released a solicitation for cubesats to ride along with the first crewed flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, with the caveat that selected projects fill strategic knowledge gaps for future lunar and Mars exploration.
But now NASA is going to fly all three missions — EM-1, EM-2, and Europa Clipper — on Block 1. [...] According to the memo, NASA will aim to have the second platform ready for a Block 1B launch in the beginning of 2024.
Data was collected during several hundred supersonic test runs in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel at Langley of a scale model of the Block 1 Cargo vehicle that is the currently mandated booster for the upcoming Europa Clipper mission.
Although U.S. federal appropriations bills enacted into law for the last three fiscal years mandate a Europa Clipper launch on SLS and "no later than 2022," the presentations to the HEO committee show that launch on a Block 1 Cargo vehicle in 2023.
In the wake of ML-2 funding and the change in direction, NASA began looking at "Jupiter Direct" trajectories with Block 1 again. NASA's early analyses of launch windows for Europa Clipper in 2022, 2023, 2024, or 2025 indicate that direct trajectories are feasible for SLS Block 1.
He added that both the original Block 1 version of SLS, as well as the Block 1B with the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage, are the only vehicles with C3 values high enough to allow for a direct trajectory for the six-ton Europa Clipper spacecraft. The less-powerful Block 1 is still sufficient, he said, mitigating concerns about any delays in the development of the Block 1B.
The mission will be the first cargo flight of the SLS and will likely – though not confirmed – be the first SLS Block 1B launch.
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