Officials at the American space agency announce that three new contracts have been awarded to corporations in the United States, all of them for the development of technologies related to the boosters that will power up NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).
The new grants total about $137.3 million, and are divided between ATK Launch Systems Inc., in Brigham City, Utah; Dynetics Inc., in Huntsville, Alabama; and the Northrop Grumman Corporation Aerospace Systems, in Redondo Beach, California.
What the agency is especially interested in are risk reduction concepts that can be applied to future generations of the SLS, which will feature larger boosters, and the ability to deliver astronauts to near-Earth asteroids and Mars.
There are several SLS variants planned, ranging in lift capabilities from 70 to 130 tons, and they feature different boosters. The new grants are meant to improve the overall performances of all these boosters significantly.
The first SLS configuration to enter use will be the 70-ton one, which will use 2 solid rocket boosters (SRB), featuring five segments each. These rockets are similar to the SRB used by the space shuttles.
The real challenge will be to construct the boosters for the 130-ton version of the SLS. These rockets will have to yield more thrust than any existing lift system. All three grants are meant to create, and improve on, technologies to be used in this regard.
These advanced booster concepts and hardware demonstrations will have to be demonstrated over the next 30 months, as stipulated in the new contracts. If these projects are successful, NASA plans to follow through with additional grants, as funds become available.
According to the new agreements, ATK will develop a series of innovations for solid-fueled boosters, including “composite case design and development, propellant development and characterization, nozzle design and affordability enhancement, and avionics and controls development.”
Dynetics will use NASA
funding to research a series of new manufacturing techniques for various rocket components, as well for the metallic cryogenic tanks that will be used to store fuel.
NGC Aerospace Systems will also focus on developing innovative design and manufacturing techniques. Additional research will be aimed at SLS advanced booster development, production and operations.
The maiden flight of the SLS – carrying an unmanned Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle – is scheduled to be conducted no earlier than 2017.