Three companies will conduct engineering demonstrations of technology with potential applications to the advanced, twin strap-on boosters NASA wants to beef up its heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) from 70 metric tons to 130.

Among work to be done under the $137.3 million in awards will be an attempt to recreate several elements of the massive F-1 engine that powered the Saturn V Moon rocket, as well as a shuttle-heritage solid-rocket motor with a composite case and composite propellant tanks for a liquid-fueled booster.

William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said Oct. 2 that NASA is negotiating with other companies for additional demonstrations to reduce risk in the big new boosters.

“We’re experimenting a little bit, kind of in the developmental sense, to see which of these booster technologies have the most promise for being the booster technology we want to use in that 130-metric-ton capability,” Gerstenmaier told Aviation Week during a break in the 63rd International Astronauatical Congress in Naples, Italy. “We want it not [to] be just a paper study. We wanted to do some developmental activity, do some actual tests, so that gives us a good gauge of [whether this is] maybe as easy as industry thinks it is, [or] is it harder, what is the right technology we want to invest in the boosters?”

ATK Launch Systems, which is building the steel-cased, five-segment solid-rocket boosters for the early 70-metric-ton SLS, will get $51.3 million to conduct risk-reduction demonstrations of composite casing, nozzle design, and propellant, avionics and control-system development. The work also will examine affordability enhancements, growing out of a value stream mapping exercise at the company’s Promontory, Utah, manufacturing facility.

With NASA’s support, now that the space shuttle has stopped flying, ATK went through its processes from the bottom up and changed them when workers suggested more efficient ways to build the systems. The changes are being implemented on qualification motors for the early SLS boosters, and the company and NASA believe it will cut total assembly time on SLS boosters by 46% overall.

Under the new contract, Dynetics, Inc. — based in Huntsville, Ala., where Wernher von Braun’s team of German space engineers developed the Saturn V and its F-1 engine — will use up-to-date manufacturing techniques to try to replicate their work. Among F-1 components to be built and tested is an integrated powerpack. The company will also demonstrate new techniques for fabricating metallic cryogenic tanks under its $73.3 million contract.

Northrop Grumman will do the same sort of work with composite propellant tanks under its $12.2 million contract, concentrating on affordability with time and motion studies to provide NASA with data for comparison in advanced booster development, production and operations, the agency says.

“This is a great chance for us to experiment a little bit and see what’s out there and get ready and prepare a bit for an actual award, potentially, for those boosters,” Gerstenmaier says. “We’re not totally done on negotiating. This is a NASA Research Announcement, so even though we awarded these, there are some others that may be coming along as well.”

Among them is Aerojet, which is developing a 1-million-lb. thrust, lox-rich staged combustion engine designated the AJ-1E6, according to Julie Van Kleeck, the company’s vice president of space and launch systems.