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More Powerful SLS Upper Stage in the Works, Moon and Mars Stand No Chance

The Space Launch System, or the SLS as NASA likes to call it, is the rocket that will power humanity into a new age of space exploration. The very first flight of the SLS is scheduled for 2021 as part of the Artemis program, but the agency and its partners are already looking into what will happen after the first missions.
Boeing Exploration Upper Stage SLS 1 photo
As per the updated plan of the agency, Artemis I will launch for the moon in 2021 with no crew. In 2023, Artemis II will head out there once again, this time with people on board, but stop short of landing, while Artemis III will put human boots on the satellite in 2024.

For these three flights, the two-stage SLS used will be a variant called Block 1. Its upper stage comprises one RL-10 engine (made by Boeing and United Space Alliance), and that should be enough for the immediate goals of the program.

For later on (Artemis IV and beyond), a more potent variant of the upper stage will be needed. Called Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), it will be deployed on the Block 1B version of the SLS, comprising larger fuel tanks and four RL-10 engines for even more power. Boeing just announced that following a NASA design review, it is getting ready to transition the project from design to build.

“EUS was designed for crewed flights from the beginning, and the additional lift capability that comes with the EUS requires fewer flights to enable a sustained human presence in deep space sooner and more safely,” said in a statement Steve Snell, EUS program manager for Boeing.

“The moon is 238,000 miles from Earth, and Mars at its closest has been 35 million miles away. Transporting crews in the fewest flights, for shorter durations, is the safest approach to human deep-space travel. Only the EUS-powered SLS can carry the Orion, along with the necessary mission cargo, in one launch to the moon – or beyond.”

Overall, the SLS is planned as the most powerful rocket ever made, packing the largest boosters ever designed. There are two of them, and each is good for 3.5 million pounds of thrust. On top of the rocket will sit NASA’s Orion capsule, the third in the list of new generation spaceships that includes the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing Starliner.

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