Interview with Dave Reynolds, NASA's Deputy Program Manager for SLS Booster Subsystems
In this episode we’ll discuss NASA’s upcoming Artemis 1 mission, scheduled to launch no earlier than the end of this month. The Space Launch System rocket, or “SLS” will propel the Orion spacecraft on its mission around the Moon and back to Earth. Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight test that will travel farther than any other human-rated spacecraft has traveled before. This mission, the first of an increasing series of complex missions, will demonstrate NASA’s capability to extend human existence to the Moon, and on to Mars.
Joining me in this episode from NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center is Dave Reynolds, Deputy Program Manager for SLS Booster Subsystems.
Artemis I Mission Overview
Artemis I is the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I is an uncrewed flight test that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate our commitment and capability to return humans to the Moon and extend beyond.
During this flight, Orion will launch atop the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. Over the course of the mission, it will travel 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) from Earth and 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) beyond the far side of the Moon. Orion will stay in space longer than any human spacecraft has without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
This first Artemis mission will demonstrate the performance of both Orion and the SLS rocket and test our capabilities to orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The flight will pave the way for future missions to the lunar vicinity, including landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon.
With Artemis I, NASA sets the stage for human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars. With Artemis, NASA will collaborate with industry and international partners to establish long-term exploration for the first time.
For more information visit Nasa.gov/artemis-1Buzzsprout - Let's get your podcast launched!
Chuck (host) (00:22):
Hello, thanks so much for joining me today. In today's episode, we'll be talking about NASA's Artemis I mission, which is scheduled to launch, hopefully by the end of this month, the space launch system rocket or SLS will propel the Orion spacecraft on its mission around the moon. And back to earth. Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test that will travel farther than any other human rated spacecraft has traveled before this mission. The first of an increasingly series of complex missions will demonstrate NASA's capability to extend human existence to the moon and onto Mars. Joining me today from NASA's Marshall space flight center is Dave Reynolds, deputy program manager for SLS boosters, subsystems
Chuck (host) (01:06):
Dave, thank you so much for joining me today. Really a pleasure to have you here.
Dave Reynolds (01:10):
I appreciate it. Thank you very much for having me on.
Chuck (host) (01:13):
Well, it is a pleasure. I first wanted to congratulate you on the recent full scale booster test of your SLS system. I was wondering, you know, obviously a lot of work went into that. How are you and your team feeling about the results so far?
Dave Reynolds (01:27):
So far the results look really good. It's you know, it's always, we always go into these tests with a lot of confidence that we're gonna have a really positive outcome, but rocket business you're always working right on the edge. And so you never really, really get comfortable with it until the test is done. But the data that we've gotten from these tests looks really positive. We're really looking at the the nozzle very closely in particular because one of our objectives was to, was to test a new material that replaced an obsolete material for, for building up that nozzle. And, and it looked really good. And then also the ignition thrust trace right there where the, where the thrust starts to build up at the very beginning, we were testing a a new ignition system and it fell right on, right on the money right. Where we wanted it to be. So everything's looking really good so far.
Chuck (host) (02:17):
Oh, that is so we're so glad to hear that. That's incredible. Now, before we dive into armaments, which I can't wait to get into, I wanted to discuss your space journey a little bit. I understand you started your career as a chemical engineer. I was wondering, you know, what treated in NASA, did you have sort of an interest in space or, or how did that happen?
Dave Reynolds (02:35):
Yeah, so it, to, to really dig into my past, in interest, in, in space, you actually have to go back to when I was in first grade. And that is, that was in 1986 when the challenger accident happened. Yes. And I was, you know, I'm what eight years old at the time. And I didn't really have a full comprehension of, of the, of the implications of it, but that's really, I remember the moment when the other teacher came in, cause we didn't watch it live, but the other teacher came in and I could tell that this was a big deal and this was not something that was anticipated and then going home and seeing on the news that it was a, I mean, it was a really big deal for the nation. Yeah. And so that, that sparked something in my little eight year old head.
Dave Reynolds (03:18):
And I started asking a lot of questions and, and bugging my parents about it. And finally, my mom took me to the grocery store and they had a, a packet. I think it was put out by, by time magazine or something like that. That was a commemorative set of lithographs and, and stories about the crew and the vehicle. And she bought that for me. And I think that was my first journey into the realm of space travel other than just watching star wars and star Trek. And that really got me interested in space. And I don't think I ever recovered from that. In fact, shortly thereafter maybe within a year or two, you know, I grew up in Utah, which is only about a mile and a half or about an hour and a half south of where we tested this last booster.
Dave Reynolds (04:03):
Wow. Morton THCA at the time now Northrop Grumman were the ones that, that built that booster. And I knew that they were building new boosters to get cha or to get back to flight after challenger. Right. And I wrote to 'em and I said, Hey, I would love to have any information you have. And they sent me a poster and it's a pretty famous poster in the space community. It's called T plus 30. And it's a picture of the space shuttle flying straight up kind of a really beautiful painting that someone's put together and right over here on my office wall is that original paint, that original painting poster it's nice and faded. It's had plenty of sunlight on it, but I keep it there to remind me of my roots and remind me what got me into this business in the first place. So it was a long journey that got me there, but it's still in my blood. I can't get it out. <Laugh> wow.
Chuck (host) (04:51):
What a fasting journey. And I appreciate you sharing that story and, and just now it's led you. So I, I love your current role. You know, you're currently program manager for SLS booster subsystem. Can you tell us more about what you do and your responsibilities?
Dave Reynolds (05:04):
Sure. And I'll correct you a little bit. I'm the deputy program manager. I, Bruce tiller is the program manager. I don't want to take all the responsibility on my shoulders because I, I still need someone to blame when something goes wrong.
Chuck (host) (05:15):
There you Go. <Laugh>
Dave Reynolds (05:16):
He's the number one guy. But yeah, so my role basically is we at Marshall space flight center in Huntsville, Alabama, we manage the different elements of the SLS that go into building up that rocket. And the part that we are responsible for in the booster office is obviously those two large white solid rocket boosters on either side of the, the vehicle you'll find we, we basically manage the contract and that works with Northrop Grumman. So Northrop Grumman builds the the boosters in Utah and then ultimately ships them out to Florida to, to build up at the launchpad. But we at Marshall space flight center, NASA manage any technical issues that come up, the integration issues with the other elements the, the financials of, of dealing with the contract. So that's, that's primarily what my role is these days.
Chuck (host) (06:10):
Wow. That's a fascinating role, David. I just, you know, what's really exciting to, to, to me, and I'm sure you and your team arm one is coming up, you know, scheduled launch no earlier than possibly the end of this month. Which is great. Can you tell us just about the capabilities and mission objectives for Artis one in general?
Dave Reynolds (06:29):
Yeah. So if you're familiar with the Apollo program, I like to think of Artis one a lot, like Apollo eight without the astronauts, right? It's a dry run for a flight with the astronauts, which would be Artis two. And so the the Artis Artis one vehicle is what we call the block. One vehicle. It's basically the starting point for the SLS program. So SLS is designed to be evolvable over time and also very versatile, right? The primary mission right now is to return humans to the moon. And so the the objective of Artemis one is to launch transverse to the moon and do what they call a retrograde orbit, which is kind of a, a, an oblong orbit around the moon for several days, taking photos, doing experiments, and just basically testing out the systems of the SLS plus the the Orion vehicle, so that when we are ready to send crew to the moon and they do a very similar mission, we'll basically understand what it is that they will be encountering.
Dave Reynolds (07:30):
And then further down the road, when we test Artemis three and Artemis four, and we have a land ready, we have a gateway ready, then SLS will be ready to support those. And we'll basically be able to go step by step. And ultimately once the moon has been established and we learn how to live and, and, and traverse to our, our nearest celestial neighbor, then obviously the next step. And the next big goal is to go to go to Mars. And, and anywhere beyond that, that, that humans might want to explore. That's what SLS is designed for is to be a very versatile program like that.
Chuck (host) (08:05):
Well, that is incredible. Now, a lot of our audience are very familiar. Of course, you, you mentioned Apollo eight, they're familiar with Saturn five rocket that launched Apollo astronauts to the moon. In a general sense, what's what are the main differences between SLS and the Apollo Saturn five?
Dave Reynolds (08:20):
Yeah. Aside from the, the versatility aspect, which I think is probably your biggest angle that you want to understand the difference between the two there's just a lot more power and capability on the SLS rocket, right? When they have designed Apollo, they were trying to fulfill John Kennedy's mandate to send people to the moon and back, they specifically designed that vehicle to go to the moon, to bring a Lander with them, to the moon and to come home. Again, there wasn't much more capability than that, you know, ultimately they ended up using similar programs to, to put up similar vehicle to put up Skylab and such. So they kind of forced it to be versatile, but in the end, it was really just designed to go to the moon. SLS is designed to be a, a very broad program to be able to bring large payloads to lower orbit if necessary large payloads to the moon, and ultimately be able to interface with whatever system gateway system that we decide that we want to send large payloads to Mars.
Chuck (host) (09:19):
See, I think that's so exciting. What I, what I love is you mentioned the block one before, and, and I think a lot of our might not know this, but there's actually several various combinations, you know? Yeah. The block one, the one B and the two. Can you tell us more about the differences between these variations?
Dave Reynolds (09:35):
Yeah, sure. So when we refer to a block program in, in NASA speak, basically, that means that we're going to make, be making a major upgrade to a big part of that vehicle. So the block one is your baseline design. That's, what's sitting out in the VAB right now. That's what we're going to launch. Like you said, hopefully towards the end of this month that's the, the basic design of that one puts out approximately 9 million pounds of thrust. I think it's 8.8, 8.9 million pounds of thrust. Once all the components are working together, it also has an upper stage that we refer to as the ICP PS, the interim cryogenic compulsion stage. That's the part that is actually going to push the Orion and the service module to the moon, and then it it detaches and then the service module on the Orion will, will ultimately bring the Orion back home.
Dave Reynolds (10:26):
So that's your block one. But we knew from the get go that the amount of payload that we would be sending to the moon was not gonna be capable of sustaining a, a long term program on the moon if we stuck with the block one. And so several years ago, the program started working a an angle that, that we refer to as the EUS, the exploration upper stage, and the exploration upper stage is basically an upgraded upper stage that can send more payload and more mass than just the Orion. It can carry what we call co manifested payloads of, of heavy mass to the moon. It, it's a, it's a larger upper stage version. So block one block, one B as far as the first stage go are pretty similar in thrust, but they have a better capability of sending block one B has a better capability of sending payloads to the moon, because it has a more powerful and versatile upper stage.
Dave Reynolds (11:22):
Then you get into the block two variant, the block two variant is something that that is down the road a little bit, but we are, we are working on it now. And in particular, we're working at it in the booster project because we're one of the biggest upgrades that will create the block two vehicle. When we create the block two vehicle, we will be replacing the heritage style boosters on the sides of those vehicles with a completely upgraded system. A lot of the SLS has been pulling from off the shelf parts left over from the shuttle program. The engines, the RS 25 inches are shuttle engines. The boosters themselves are booster hardware. They're not exactly the same design, but we are pulling a lot of the same hardware into that program. And so as we move into later parts of this program, we're using these parts up they're expendable.
Dave Reynolds (12:15):
And so at some point we're gonna run out of 'em and for us the booster program we run out of them on the ninth flight. So by the ninth flight of SLS, we need to have something that will replace those, that those boosters. And so over those boosters are basically designed that the, the guts of 'em were basically designed back in the seventies and they've made some upgrades, obviously over the, over the next 30 years or so, but the, the basic design, especially the, the big metal parts and everything, they are literally 30 years old. In fact, on this last FSB test that, that you, that you were referring to, we actually had a, a part, a cylinder of one of those booster segments that had flown on STS one. So that that's the very first shuttle mission. So yeah, that's how long we could hold on to these things and reuse them.
Dave Reynolds (13:05):
Right. but at some point, because of the power of SLS, these things have to be expendable. And so when we replace them, we're gonna go with more state of the art technologies, right over the years, composites have really taken off and have become basically the baseline for a rocket program, especially solid rocket boosters. And so we're gonna switch to a composite case material that gives you a lighter material. That's stronger. That gives you increased increased pressure inside the vehicle or inside of the booster. We are going to increase and update the propellant so that it's a higher performing propellant. When you do that, it's gonna, it's gonna chew up your nozzle more easily. And so we need to upgrade our nozzle to be able to give us some more performance and better thermal capability on that. And then we've got a a high, a thrust factor control system, the steering system of the booster that dates way back and uses a, a material called hydrazine, which is pretty hazardous for people to, to handle. And so we'd like to back away from that. And there's been a lot of advancements obviously in in battery technologies and and electro hydraulic units that control thrust, vector control. And so we're actually gonna update that. That was actually one of the objectives that we tested on that FSB one test as well was to test a very similar system to give us some early data on that.
Chuck (host) (14:26):
And that's incredible what I understand that
Dave Reynolds (14:27):
Chuck (host) (14:28):
Yeah. What I, sure. Dave is the, the solid, the SRBs, they're larger than the ones of the shuttle. I, I believe by I, I think they're five instead of four. I, you can probably explain better than I can. But they account for 75% of the thrust at lift off, is that correct?
Dave Reynolds (14:45):
Yeah, that's correct. And, and it's, it's interesting when you're talking between solids and liquid propulsion, right. And the the SLS uses the best of both worlds. All right. So the way I like to explain it is that a solid rocket motor is a lot like your Chevy truck and a, a liquid propellant engine is a lot like a Toyota Prius, right? So Chevy, truck's gonna give you a lot of good power, right? It's gonna be able to tow a lot. You're gonna be able to bring your, your your third wheel and a boat and a, and a, and a four Wheeler all behind it, but it's gonna get lousy gas mileage. Well, that's basically what the boosters are. They are going to give you that power and thrust for the first two minutes that are gonna get you out of the gravity.
Dave Reynolds (15:27):
Well, get your velocity up. But then ultimately, because you're throwing so much mass out of the back of these boosters they they're expended. They're used up, and that's why we drop 'em off. So early on in the flight, then you want to turn to your Toyota Prius, your liquid engines that get a lot higher performance, but don't get the, they get a lot better gas mileage, but they don't give you the, the thrust that you need. And so those two components working together is something that was learned during the shuttle program and works very well for getting heavy payloads off the ground and into a high velocity, which is really what you need to escape earth orbit.
Chuck (host) (16:05):
Wow. I, I tell you, I think back to, you know, you share your story about first grader becoming interested in space as you look at Artis, just in general, just how do you feel about it? What excites you the most about the Artis program?
Dave Reynolds (16:20):
Yeah, I think what, what really gets me excited about Artis is that we're finally going somewhere. We're, you know, that I was, I, I started working at NASA right around the the Columbia return to flight time period. And it was really exciting to work on those programs, but I still had this feeling of we're circling the block. Right. And, and we're, we're continually doing the same thing, even though we, I mean, there was a lot of technology, a lot of interesting things that, that came up and, and we built the space station for heaven's sakes, but, but I still had this feeling within myself. I still had that eight year old sense of adventure in me that said, we really, I want to go somewhere. And I think that's what SLS and, and Artemis gives me that really gets me excited is that we are going somewhere.
Dave Reynolds (17:12):
We have a mission, we have something that we haven't done before. Right. Where people say, well, you're going back to the moon. Yeah. But we're going back to the moon to stay. It's a, it's a, it's a diverse program, right? We're, we're, we're going to send it's, it's designed to, to bring the, the first person of color and the first woman that's one of the primary objectives to, to make sure that there's, there's a diversity in the program itself. And then we're going to build a lunar base. We're going to build a lunar outpost orbiting so that you can send payloads deeper into space and potentially to Mars at some point, I mean, this seems like a bigger program than we've ever had before. And that's, that's really exciting for me. Like I said, I, I grew up watching the star Trek in the star wars and those guys already had all that figured out. I'm, I'm just excited that we're finally on the ground floor of trying to get outta earth orbit and, and see what else is out there.
Chuck (host) (18:07):
<Laugh> I tell you, we are definitely going somewhere and it's thanks to hardworking people like you and your team. So I'm excited about just one last question. Are you going to attend the launch by chance?
Dave Reynolds (18:18):
I, I am. I actually, I work a console down at Kennedy space center. So I will I will be watching a computer screen, but hopefully feeling the roar of, of 9 million pounds of thrust when it starts to rattle the, the windows and the walls. So I'm excited to, to be down there for it.
Chuck (host) (18:35):
You are excited, we're we, we are excited for you. We're just, I can't wait. We cannot wait for this mission launches, Dave, I just wanna thank you so much for taking time on your schedule to join me. And I really appreciate it.
Dave Reynolds (18:46):
Yeah. I appreciate it. Anytime
Chuck (host) (18:52):
Well, I really enjoyed my conversation with Dave and I'm so excited about Artis. One mission to the moon. Hope you are too. You'll like to learn more. Just go to nasa.gov/artemis. I wanna thank Dave for joining me today. Wanna thank you for joining me as well again, if you can do me a small favor and like this episode and, or share with a friend, I'd certainly appreciate it. Thank you so much for joining me. We'll see you next time. God bless.