NASA makes it official: It wants a big new rocket

NASA issues $8 million call for new heavy lift rocket

nas abuilds the saturn
NASA today issued the official announcement that it wants a new heavy-lift rocket to help it get deep into outer space. 

NASA said it will spend $8 million on the project with no individual contract exceeding $625,000. The deadline for submitting proposals is July 29, 2010. 

In May NASA said it would soon begin looking for a next generation heavy lift rocket that could be used around 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 April speech outlining NASA's future, 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. 

In its announcement today NASA said the technical objective of the new program  is the identification of the capabilities required to support an innovative evolutionary human space exploration activity, with possible destinations including the Moon, Mars and its environs, near-earth asteroids, and Lagrange points. The focus of the systems analysis is to determine the technology, and research and development required for a Heavy Lift System, defined as including a heavy lift launch vehicle and the in-space propulsion elements required to conduct those human space exploration activities. 

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

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. 

At the same time, NASA stated it wants to develop liquid chemical propulsion technologies to support a more affordable and robust space transportation industry. 

The space agency in the past few weeks has begun to reshape its future.  The agency issued requests for advanced space exploration technologies that move beyond Low Earth Orbit and a call for more details on how commercial programs will advance space transportation needs.

NASA recently said it is currently in a "conceptual phase" of developing Commercial Crew Transportation (CCT) requirements that will define how commercial outfits will be able to transport NASA astronauts and cargo safely to and from LEO and the International Space Station.

 NASA said it wants to collect information from the commercial space industry to help the space agency plan the strategy for the development and demonstration of a CCT capability and to receive comments on NASA human-rating technical requirements that have been drafted as part of this initiative, NASA stated. 

That draft, called the  Commercial Human-Rating Plan (CHRP) defines the allocation of responsibilities, requirements, mandatory standards, and process for achieving NASA human spaceflight certification for commercial crew transportation services. 

NASA is now looking for more details from space industry players to determine issues such as:  "What is the approximate dollar magnitude of the minimum NASA investment necessary to ensure the success of your company's CCT development and demonstration effort? What is the approximate government fiscal year phasing of this investment from award to completion of a crewed orbital flight demonstration?" 

In February NASA awarded $50 million to five companies under the CCT program who could help design and build future spacecraft that could take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The five companies and their awards were Blue Origin: $3.7 million; Boeing: $18 million; Paragon Space Development Corporation: $1.4 million; Sierra Nevada Corporation: $20 million; United Launch Alliance: $6.7 million.  

The money is expected to be used toward the development of crew concepts and technology for future commercial support of human spaceflight and are designed to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to high-tech job growth in engineering, analysis, design and research, and to promote economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created, NASA said. 

In another future planning development, NASA recently said it defined six targeted technologies of the future via its Flagship Technology Demonstration effort. Such Flagship technologies could be developed at costs ranging from $400 million to $1 billion.  

A few of the key technologies from the NASA request included: 

  • Advanced Solar Electric Propulsion: This will involve concepts for advanced high-energy, in-space propulsion systems which will serve to demonstrate building blocks to even higher energy systems to support deep-space human exploration and eventually reduce travel time between Earth's orbit and future destinations for human activity.   
  • In-Orbit Propellant Transfer and Storage: The capability to transfer and store propellant-particularly cryogenic propellants-in orbit can significantly increase the Nation's ability to conduct complex and extended exploration missions beyond Earth's orbit. 
  • Lightweight/Inflatable Modules: Inflatable modules can be larger, lighter, and potentially less expensive for future use than the rigid modules currently used by the ISS. NASA said it will pursue a demonstration of lightweight/inflatable modules for eventual in-space habitation, transportation, or even surface habitation needs.   

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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