U.S. human spaceflight launchers
August 29, 2022 - NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS -- the centrepiece of the $93 billion Artemis programme -- is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle that can send astronauts directly to the Moon on a single mission.
The SLS stands 98.1 metres high, and its four RS-25 engines provide about 900 tonnes of thrust -- more than the Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo missions to the Moon between 1969 and 1973.
Set to blast off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Monday (August 29, 2022), the uncrewed Artemis I mission could represent the end of NASA’s dominance of human spaceflight and a new era of reusable commercial launchers.
NASA plans five Artemis missions, all of which use the SLS and the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft.
Despite calls to make parts of the rocket reusable, the design for SLS followed a traditional “cost-plus” plan where NASA retains project control and reimburses contractors.
Testifying before Congress in May, NASA administrator Bill Nelson called cost-plus contracts “the old way of doing business.” Nelson said that such deals encouraged companies to bid low to win contracts, which left NASA with no alternative but to meet heavy cost overruns.
NASA’s costs to launch crewed missions using the space shuttle were an estimated $66,000 per kg, while Russia charges about $17,600 per kg for flights aboard its Soyuz rockets. Comparatively, SpaceX currently charges around $2,900 per kg of payload for cargo aboard its Falcon 9 rocket to reach orbit.