Space Launch System Rocket Gets Updated Adapter for Journey to Mars


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NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is designed to be flexible and evolvable to meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs – and with an exploration upper stage (EUS) planned for future configurations, the rocket will require a new adapter to connect it to the Orion spacecraft.

A universal stage adapter will meet that need.

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NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will lead the design and development of the adapter on behalf of the SLS Program. They plan to issue a request for proposal for the acquisition of the first universal stage adapter later this year.

“The universal stage adapter will use state of the art materials to minimize the weight and maximize launch capacity,” said Joe Roche, universal stage adapter sub-element manager at Glenn. “We drew on our expertise in large space flight structures and the help of a small team of engineers at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia to create a conceptual design of the adapter.”

A conical shaped barrel, the new adapter will be 27.6 feet in diameter at its largest point and 32.4 feet long. It will provide environmental control to payloads during ground operations, launch and ascent, and it will provide electrical and communication paths between SLS’s EUS and Orion.

With the EUS, which will be powered by four RL10-C3 engines, SLS will be capable of lifting more than 105 metric tons (231,000 pounds) from the Earth’s surface. Unlike the previous adapter, the universal stage adapter will be capable of carrying large co-manifested payloads, such as a habitat. To protect and deploy those payloads, the design incorporates systems to control temperature, mitigate noise and release the payload.

“The second configuration of SLS, known as Block 1B, will be the workhorse of the proving ground phase of NASA’s journey to Mars,” said Steve Creech, deputy director of the SLS Spacecraft and Payload Integration and Evolution Office at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala. where the SLS Program is managed.

“The rocket will carry crew and exploration systems tens of thousands of miles beyond the moon to demonstrate new capabilities that will enable us to then move outward toward the Red Planet,” Creech continued.

The proving ground is the area of space NASA will send the early missions of Orion and SLS. It is 40,000 miles beyond the moon, but only three to five days away from Earth, yet further than astronauts have ever traveled.

“We’re pleased to have NASA Glenn join the SLS team, bringing their design expertise to the leadership of the universal stage adapter development,” Creech said.

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