2017.B.4.6. NASA’s Space Launch System: Deep-Space Deployment for SmallSats


Andy Schorr (1)

  1. NASA, United States of America




Space Launch System, SLS, launch vehicles


From its upcoming first flight, NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) will represent a game-changing opportunity for smallsats. On that launch, which will propel the Orion crew vehicle around the moon, the new exploration-class launch vehicle will deploy 13 6U CubeSats into deep-space, where they will continue to a variety of destinations to perform diverse research and demonstrations. Following that first flight, SLS will undergo the first of a series of performance upgrades, increasing its payload capability to low Earth orbit from 70 to 105 metric tons via the addition of a powerful upper stage. With that change to the vehicle’s architecture, so too will its secondary payload accommodation for smallsats evolve, with current plans calling for a change from the first-flight limit of 6U to accommodating a range of sizes up to 27U and potentially ESPA-class payloads. This presentation will provide an overview and update on the first launch of SLS and the secondary payloads it will deploy. Currently, flight hardware has been produced for every element of the vehicle, testing of the vehicle’s propulsion elements has been ongoing for years, and structural testing of its stages has begun. Major assembly and testing of the Orion Stage Adapter, including the secondary payload accommodations, will be completed this year, and the structure will then be shipped to Kennedy Space Center for integration of the payloads. Progress is being made on those CubeSats, which will include studies of asteroids, Earth, the sun, the moon, and the impacts of radiation on organisms in deep space. They will feature revolutionary innovations for smallsats, including demonstrations of use of a solar sail as propulsion for a rendezvous with an asteroid, and the landing of a CubeSat on the lunar surface. The presentation will also provide an update on progress of the SLS Block 1B configuration that will be used on the rocket’s second flight, a discussion of planned secondary payload accommodations on that configuration of the vehicle, and a look at the current state of planning of upcoming missions and what that could mean for deep-space smallsat flight opportunities.


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