There’s good news and bad news for advocates of heavy-lift launch vehicles today. The good news is that NASA has come up with a proposed HLV concept that it has delivered to Congress, Space News reports. That proposal was required by a provision in section 309 of the NASA authorization act, which requires NASA to submit, no later than 90 days after the bill’s enactment:
…a detailed report to the appropriate committees of Congress that provides an overall description of the reference vehicle design, the assumptions, description, data, and analysis of the systems trades and resolution process, justification of trade decisions, the design factors which implement the essential system and vehicle capability requirements established by this Act, the explanation and justification of any deviations from those requirements, the plan for utilization of existing contracts, civil service and contract workforce, supporting infrastructure utilization and modifications, and procurement strategy to expedite development activities through modification of existing contract vehicles, and the schedule of design and development milestones and related schedules leading to the accomplishment of operational goals established by this Act.
The Space Launch System concept that NASA submitted, according to report, is a close cousin to the Ares 5 concept that was in the agency’s previous plans: a core stage based on space shuttle external tanks with five SSMEs, two five-segment SRBs, and an upper stage using a J-2X engine. The stated design is similar to what NASA’s Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) was studying last year, according to a presentation obtained by NASA Watch.
There’s bad news, though, as well: according to NASA’s own documents, the “Reference Vehicle Design” can neither be built within the authorized funding levels in the act, nor completed by the act’s deadline of the end of 2016. The act authorizes just over $6.9 billion from 2011 through 2013 for the Space Launch System “and associated program and other necessary support”.