NASA seeks input to position mega-rocket for long-term exploration

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NASA seeks input to position mega-rocket for long-term exploration

NASA is preparing for the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, along with other flight hardware for the next several Artemis missions in production around the country. The agency also is looking forward to future missions and working to transition SLS from design and development to production and operations to support NASA’s long-term exploration goals.

To accomplish this goal, NASA has invited industry to submit responses to a Request for Information (RFI) to assist NASA in maximizing the long-term efficiency of the SLS rocket’s super-heavy-lift, national launch capabilities while streamlining operations to minimize production, operations, and maintenance costs. NASA will use the information received to inform plans for production and operations of the SLS rocket beginning on or about Artemis V to ensure this national asset is available for decades of deep space exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

“The primary goal of the RFI is to gather information to position the agency to support long-term exploration of the Moon and beyond by streamlining SLS production and operations,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Working with industry will enable us to expand availability of this national capability to not only NASA, but also to other government and non-government entities, and bring down the cost of SLS launches to benefit multiple users.”

As the agency continues to refine the plans for future exploration missions, NASA is looking to transform current traditional acquisition approaches. Specifically, the agency is considering an overall acquisition strategy of a service provider for the integrated SLS system in partnership with a potential service provider for the ground systems and launch operations in order to evolve into an integrated launch service available to NASA and other customers in both the public and private sectors.

This approach envisions NASA as the priority customer with at least one crewed flight per year for the next 10 or more years as an essential part of the agency’s human exploration plans at the Moon. With the capability to send unprecedented mass and volume to the Moon and beyond, SLS is designed to be flexible and evolvable and will also open new possibilities for NASA and other users to send large cargos or science missions into the far reaches of the solar system.

“The NASA workforce and our industry partners can be proud of moving SLS through design, development, testing, manufacturing, assembling and soon flying the rocket for the first time on Artemis I,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Our team will remain focused on using SLS’s unprecedented power to launch the first three Artemis missions to the Moon and on increasing SLS’s capability by adding the exploration upper stage on Artemis IV. SLS is a national capability that will be used for decades to make the boldest space missions possible.”

As NASA transitions responsibility for SLS production, integration, and launch operations to industry, the agency’s development efforts will shift focus to the next generation of technologies and infrastructure to ensure U.S. leadership in space and extend human missions farther into the solar system.

“While our near-term focus is on a successful Artemis I mission, NASA looking ahead and preparing to tackle the next development challenges for our exploration goals, such as habitats and other lunar surface systems, cryogenic fluid management, and spacecraft nuclear propulsion.” said Jim Free, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

“The talented workforce at Marshall, including the workforce responsible for SLS development, is recognized as the go-to for expertise on transportation systems and advanced manufacturing and will be essential in developing our Moon to Mars capabilities.”

With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

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