2015-10-23

NASA's New Old Rocket

NASA press officials announced this week that the new heavy lifter for crewed missions will sport an unpainted main stage, giving the rocket a rust-orange look we've seen before in shuttle launches. From Space.com (emphases mine):

NASA's next-generation rocket has a new look.
The space agency has revealed a reworked color scheme for the Space Launch System heavy-lift booster, removing the paint from one major component . . .

Later the article states: 


Billed as the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, the SLS is NASA's first rocket to be specifically designed to support astronaut-crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit since the Saturn V that launched astronauts to the moon 45 years ago.
And it was with that iconic booster in mind that NASA first represented the SLS with a similar black-and-white motif when it announced the rocket in 2011. Now, the design is exposing its more colorful core.

An image published by NASA this week shows the 'new look'.



But how new is it? The image below, released by NASA in 2005, shows the Ares V, the heavy lifter planned for the deep-space missions of Project Constellation.



















Look familiar? The SLS is the Ares V. The Ares V is the SLS.

We heard much from Washington DC in 2009 about Project Constellation being 'cancelled'. The reality turned out to be otherwise. What really happened was that the pace of the project was slowed while its main components continued with development. These components included the heavy lifter (Ares V/SLS), the crewed spacecraft (Orion). The goal, an international mission to Mars, likewise remained the same.

Project Constellation components were simply assigned new names and logos. Amnesiac press releases then pretended no important innovations for the future of human space flight got started between 2001 and 2009.

Press patter and politics aside, the heavy lifter now said to have been 'first announced in 2011' was first announced in 2005. As the artist's renderings above illustrate, the original concept endures and has been carried forward.

The Ares V/SLS concept is a heavy lifter for deep-space missions that that re-uses familiar technology from the shuttle launch system while configuring the stack so that payloads are mounted on the top rather than the side. The liquid-fuel main stage incorporates the same type of engines used on the shuttle orbiters. This is augmented by strapped-on solid-fuel rockets that are also familiar from the shuttle launch system. This main stage supports, as needed, a second liquid-fuel stage. Depending on the configuration, a crew-rated second stage can assist in lofting an Orion spacecraft with astronauts and support systems on a direct ascent mission into deep space (shown in the 2015 image), or loft a heavy payload without astronauts into earth orbit (as shown in the 2005 image) as part of a flight plan involving earth-orbit rendezvous. The vehicle is adaptable to a variety of other missions as well. Designs for the second stage would vary as needed.

The Ares V was so named to invoke the goal of reaching Mars (the Roman name Mars corresponds to the Greek name Ares) while the V pays homage to the Saturn V moon rocket. As NASA engineers fully anticipated in 2005, the Ares V / SLS heavy lifter will sport an unpainted main stage displaying the orange colour of its insulation material.

SLS is Ares V. Project Constellation endures. Just don't call it that.

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