NASA’s Exploration Launch Plan

by Steve Cook

The U.S. Vision for Space Exploration guides NASA’s challenging missions of technological innovation and scientific discovery.  With the Agency’s commitment to retire the Space Shuttle by 2010, the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) Project has been chartered to design, develop, test, field, and operate a new human-rated system.  The Space Shuttle will be retired and replaced by the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and a CLV derived from Space Shuttle and Saturn propulsion elements re-engineered into a safer, simpler launch vehicle architecture.  This approach offers multiple benefits, including leveraging the valuable network of aerospace talent and unique infrastructure, while utilizing a vast amount of legacy knowledge generated from decades of experience.

The CEV that the CLV lofts into low-Earth orbit will be designed to deliver crews to the moon and Mars, while initially ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.  Likewise, the follow-on Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) will use Shuttle and Saturn derived elements to carry larger payloads such as the lunar lander.  In this way, the new CEV/CLV/CaLV system is designed to fulfill longer term mission objectives as it is enhanced for crew and cargo delivery in the pursuit of Moon and Mars exploration.  The CLV Project will deliver operational capabilities that support the Agency’s responsibility to fulfill the Vision and to help ensure U.S. preeminence in space through assured access.