Houston, TX--After the recent success of the Core Stage Green Run, NASA has announced a new variant of its Space Launch System rocket. Nill Belson, who was recently just named NASA Administrator, said in a statement:
"SLS is currently too expensive and massive to compete with other launch vehicles, so we've decided to scale down the core stage in an effort to save cost and compete with commercial launch vehicles such as SpaceX's Falcon 9."
The SLS Lite features the same four RS-25 main engines, two 5-segment Solid Rocket Boosters, and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS); however, the core stage has been scaled down from 64.6 meters to only 20.4 meters in height. This modification allows SLS Lite to only carry about 23 metric tons into Low Earth Orbit, directly competing with SpaceX's Falcon 9 and ULA's Delta IV Heavy. Mott Scanley, a principal SLS design engineer, says:
"The genius of this design is that by the time SLS Lite flies, both Falcon 9 and Delta IV Heavy are going to be retired, making us the only 20-ton class launcher in the American launch fleet. SLS Lite will also only be able to carry Orion into a Low Earth Orbit, so that makes it the perfect vehicle for crewed missions to the ISS. We're even thinking about replacing Boeing's Starliner with Orion."
SLS Lite is planned to fly no earlier than 2069.