NASA takes first steps to build new heavy-lift space rocket

NASA issues call for new heavy-lift rocket to be built by 2015

NASA's defunct Ares rocket
While some in congress may grumble, NASA has officially begun its search for a next-generation rocket capable of taking equipment and humans into space

NASA said its procurement activities are intended to find affordable options for a heavy-lift vehicle that could be achieved earlier than 2015 - the earliest date that the currently envisioned heavy-lift system could begin work. 

21 critical future NASA missions

 You may recall that in his speech outlining NASA's future last month, President Obama said there would be $3.1 billion for the development of a new heavy lift rocket to fly manned and unmanned spaceflights into deep space.  Obama said he wanted this technologically advanced rocket to be designed and ready to build by 2015.

With that goal in mind, NASA today sent out a Request for Information that will begin what has in the past been a long process to build a "new US developed chemical propulsion engine for a multi-use Heavy Launch  Vehicle.  NASA said it was looking for a "demonstration of in-space chemical propulsion capabilities; and significant advancement in space launch propulsion technologies. The ultimate objective is to develop chemical propulsion technologies to support a more affordable and robust space transportation industry including human space exploration." 

The space agency said it will look for features that will reduce launch systems manufacturing, production, and operating costs. 

As part of the RFI announcement, NASA said it will initiate development and flight testing of in-space engines. Areas of focus will include low-cost liquid oxygen/methane and liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engines and will perform research in chemical propulsion technologies in areas such as new or largely untested  propellants, advanced propulsion materials and manufacturing techniques, combustion processes, and engine health monitoring and safety. 

NASA said the new heavy lift system should help the US  explore  multiple potential destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, and Mars and its environs in the most cost effective and safe manner. At the same time, NASA desires to develop liquid chemical propulsion technologies to support a more affordable and robust space transportation industry.

NASA said its approach will strengthen America's space industry, and could provide a catalyst for future business ventures to capitalize on affordable access to space, NASA said.

 The moves are preceded by the fact that NASA has all but shut down its Constellation development program - the space agency cancelled the Ares V RFP  in March -- in the face of budget constraints and the direction the current administration wants it to go. 

But there are those who don't like that direction.  For example, a New York Times article from April 22 noted:  "Opponents like Richard C. Shelby, the Republican senator from Alabama where NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has been leading the design of the Ares I rocket that the Obama administration would like to cancel, continued to denounce Mr. Obama's plans. Those plans call for ending NASA's current Constellation program that was to send astronauts back to the moon and turning to private companies for transportation into orbit.  At a hearing of an appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Shelby said that the proposal would abdicate the United States' leadership in space."

 Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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