Space Launch System is finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If everything goes smoothly (fingers crossed!), we should see the Artemis program kicked into full drive by the end of the decade. Post (or even during) Artemis, are there any studied, planned, or theoretical crewed martian missions that utilize the Space Launch System Architecture?

  • $\begingroup$ Mars missions are ostensibly part of the rationale for the Gateway station, does that count? Pretty much any beyond-LEO effort proposed today is going to involve the SLS purely for political reasons, though its low launch rate will realistically limit its role. (Again, look at Gateway...two modules of which are now being launched together on a Falcon Heavy instead of on two SLS/Orion flighs.) $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2021 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ It would not be practical to use SLS for a crewed Mars mission. The very low launch rate will prevent it from lifting sufficient tonnage to be useful. If (or more likely when) Starship becomes operational SLS will be obsolete. It might continue for years for political (jobs) reasons, but it would only be able to make a token effort in any such Mars project. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Dec 19, 2021 at 13:35

2 Answers 2


There's always plenty of studies.

NASA Mars architecture presentations always use SLS. There's a diversity of them, from the DRM that Fred mentions, to the variations, to the bat**** crazy. There's more of course; this google search will provide reading to your fatigue. The architecture that Boeing likes is the Deep Space Transport SEP setup. Aerojet Rocketdyne of course has a couple of studies/presentations on the topic; focussing in on NTP and the DST SEP setup.

There are also presentations like these from JPL Lads at ExploreMars sessions about pure chem architectures. Think about what you've done and go sit in the corner. 4 SLS launches and 11 CLV to spend 30 days in Mars orbit for a total mission duration of 570 days.

^this image would likely give Robert Zubrin a heart attack.

With that I supposed we should also consider OG Mars Direct, which baselined a vehicle similar to modern Day SLS, with it's 2 launch chem-ISRU approach. Zubrin has since moved on however.

The crux of SLS use cases in these architectures is to launch Orion or large elements; with refuelling/tug stages being given to CLV. Given that 2033 is out for a DST setup and that 2039 is about the earliest for NASA humans to Mars assuming conventional means, by which point SLS's future is looking dodgy; eh...


Yes, there are.

NASA has a long running series of studies for a Human Mars Mission. These have traditionally been referred to as Design Reference Missions (DRM). A good summary of all the DRMs can be found here


The very latest addendum to the DRM 5 mentions SLS 322 times.


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