Congress, NASA

Shelby calls for SLS competition

What does Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) have in common with California’s two Democratic senators? He, like Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, is now calling on NASA to hold an open competition for the development of the Space Launch System (SLS). In a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden last Friday, Shelby said that while he wants the SLS developed as quickly as possible, he does not want “to foreclose the possibility of utilizing competition, where appropriate”, noting that the language in the NASA authorization act passed last year calls for the use of existing contracts and other resources “to the extent practicable”.

Shelby was particularly critical in the letter to the possibility of basing the SLS on shuttle hardware. “Designing a Space Launch System for heavy lift that relies on existing Shuttle boosters ties NASA, once again, to the high fixed costs associated with segmented solids,” Shelby writes.

“I have seen no evidence that foregoing competition for the booster system will speed up development of SLS or, conversely, that introducing competition will slow the program down,” Shelby concludes in his letter to Bolden. “I strongly encourage you to initiate a competition for the Space Launch System booster. I believe it will ultimately result in a more efficient SLS development effort at lower cost to the taxpayer.”

Shelby’s conclusion is similar to the one in another letter to Bolden from Boxer and Feinstein in late May, where the two also called for “a competitive bidding process” for the SLS. In some respects, though, it’s not that surprising: when Aerojet and Huntsville-based Teledyne Brown Engineering announced a joint venture earlier this month to develop rocket engines for various projects, including SLS, it got an endorsement from Shelby. “Congress directed NASA to develop a 130-metric ton Space Launch System with a first and second stage that leverage our Ares investments. The Teledyne-Aerojet team could have a critical role to play designing additional elements of the system, and I hope NASA looks at their capabilities carefully,” Shelby said in a comment provided to the Huntsville Times when the joint venture was announced.

75 comments to Shelby calls for SLS competition

  • pathfinder_01

    “Science Fiction Double Feature. Congress has built and lost it’s creature. See Staffers fighting Bolden and Graver…”

  • SpaceColonizer

    Well isn’t that special… doesn’t win him too many points but I’m glad to see the effort.

    What we really need is more main stream media attention to these space issues. The GOP debate mention was lacking substance. John King brought up the end of the shuttle but didn’t let the conversation lead to the large amount of money being spent to slap together a USELESS replacement.

  • E.P. Grondine

    I hope this is not simply another ATK delaying tactic. I can’t see anyway ATK could make this work that way.

    What brought about the decision to look at liquid fueled boosters? Are they re-usable? If so, is the re-usability cost effective, or do they provide a cost effective path to the future launch industry?

    ATK’s stranglehold on NASA appears to be at an end. It looks to me like it finally either came down to the loss of jobs in Alabama versus the loss of jobs in Utah, OR a massive loss off market share for the US commercial launch industry, and Shelby’s decision soon followed.

    I don’t know much about NASA’s schedule, but they probably want to have their first heavy launchers in place by 2020 at the latest. 2017 would do just fine.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Is Hell freezing over?

    As Lord Louie Montbatten once noted, you can count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Congratulations to Charlie Bolden. He has triumphed. As I predicted. RGO

  • Let’s hope Bolden’s ready to jump in with both feet running!!!

  • Robert G. Oler

    E.P. Grondine wrote @ June 15th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    “ATK’s stranglehold on NASA appears to be at an end. It looks to me like it finally either came down to the loss of jobs in Alabama versus the loss of jobs in Utah, OR a massive loss off market share for the US commercial launch industry, and Shelby’s decision soon followed.”

    Shelby has been told by the money people that there really is no money to develop a shuttle derived vehicle…and the DoD has made it clear to Shelby that they want a heavier lift vehicle then the Delta Heavy…and they want something at a lower price.

    Shelby got the word from Boeing and Lockmart that one of the “stakeholders” had to go and the obvious one was ATK.

    We are about to see a wonderful thing or two happen in spaceflight in America, it is about to be reborn…and before long people like Whittington will start saying it was all to Bush the last. But the reality is that as I predicted Charlie Bolden has done it. Charlie was hired to clean up the mess at NASA…they are taking out the trash now.

    Watch listen and learn. RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    E.P. Grondine wrote @ June 15th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    I hope this is not simply another ATK delaying tactic.

    They were never as “powerful” as you thought they were, but there is no way they instigated this.

    What brought about the decision to look at liquid fueled boosters?

    All Shelby talked about was Shuttle heritage segmented solids, so that leaves open the possibility for more than liquid fueled boosters.

    ATK’s stranglehold on NASA appears to be at an end.

    ATK had no more of a “stranglehold” than Lockheed Martin or any of the myriad Constellation contractors. The word “stranglehold” implies some sort of death grip, whereas ATK was just an expensive contractor for a system that should have been put out for bid at the start of the Constellation program.

    I don’t know much about NASA’s schedule…

    Since Congress hasn’t funded NASA to build anything that actually needs the SLS, it may be another decade or so until the SLS would actually be needed (if ever).

  • SpaceColonizer

    @RGO

    Normally I wouldn’t could my chicken’s before they hatch but the writing on the wall did get a few lines added to it.

  • I’m pretty sure that the decision was driven by the fact that Aerojet has proposed to build engines in Huntsville, and that’s a bribe to Shelby that ATK (and Orrin Hatch) is going to find it tough to match.

  • Mark R, Whittington

    Oler, you mean by meeting Shelby’s price? I suppose learning how to make deals with Congress is a victory of sorts,

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    E.P. Grondine wrote @ June 15th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Reusability isn’t the issue.

    The U.S. commercial launch industry doesn’t have a market to lose. In case you hadn’t noticed, SpaceX is the first U.S. launch company in several decades to actually be winning back international business.

    And why does NASA require a heavy lifter? They currently don’t have any missions identified much less funded and any that have been considered can be catered for with existing commercial boosters or if you need something bigger, then the SpaceX FH is expected to loft in the order of 50 MT to LEO. Please note that this booster is being built without any taxpayer funding and will be on line (if all goes to plan) sometime in the next 2 – 3 years well before the timeframes you’ve quoted for the SLS.

  • Me

    The DOD has no need for heavier lift than Delta IV Heavy

  • Rand Simberg wrote:

    I’m pretty sure that the decision was driven by the fact that Aerojet has proposed to build engines in Huntsville, and that’s a bribe to Shelby that ATK (and Orrin Hatch) is going to find it tough to match.

    Thanks for that, it saved me a few minutes of digging. We all know that, where Shelby is concerned, it’s all about feathering his own nest.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R, Whittington wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 1:04 am

    “Oler, you mean by meeting Shelby’s price?”

    no. there is no evidence Shelby got anything for this. Shelby was just the first one to start throwing the other people off the boat…how does it feel Mark to have gotten everything wrong here yet again! HAH

    Robert G. Oler

  • amightywind

    It is hard to imagine what value Teledyne-Aerojet can provide. We don’t need an upper stage engine. We have the J2-X. We don’t zero stage boosters, we have the SRB. We have viable tanks and main stage engines. What can they possibly offer? Anybody know?

    Expect a forceful counter-attack from the Utah delegation for Shelby’s betrayal. It will be interesting to see where Florida and Texas line up. One thing is for sure. Knives are flashing everywhere!

  • Old Fart

    Not so fast.
    I think there are way too many assumptions being made by folks on the Senators letter/ intent, and what that implies towards a vehicle config.
    I’d wait for the SLS configuration / approach decision to be released by HQ’s before making such statements. as Churcill was quoted, ….” this is just the end of the begining…”

  • Robert G. Oler

    What needs to be understood is how big a capitulation by Shelby this is.

    It is not just that Shelby is moving off a shuttle derived vehicle. A blind person could have figured out that a SDV is untenable. Charlie has cleverly killed that.

    What is striking here, and should be seen as the end of the NASA Industrial complex as it has been known since the end of Apollo is the end of both the cost plus contract and the notion of NASA designing vehicles.

    What Cx (and some other things as well, but in HSF it was Cx) showed is that the cost plus effort while the blood that keeps the NASA Industrial complex going it is also the mass that slows space projects down.

    Bolden was set up to change all this, and he is doing a great job. In the end the folks who wanted to keep the status quo are losing…aint it grand.

    RGO

  • amightywind

    What needs to be understood is how big a capitulation by Shelby this is.

    Maybe Shelby is just looking to expand the prospects of his state which are relatively fixed under the shuttle based SLS. Because space leadership is utterly lacking from the Whitehouse, the space program will now degenerate into interstate squabbles over contracts. Chaos continues to spread.

    The nation needs you Mike Griffin!

  • Aremis Asling

    “We have the J2-X.”

    No, we have a project to upgrade the J2 to J2-X. The difference is not subtle.

    ” We don’t (sic) zero stage boosters, we have the SRB.”

    I’m pretty sure what Shelby is saying is that he’d rather not have the SRB and would like to see someone like Teledyne-Aerojet propose a replacement. He even makes a case for why. You’re certainly free to disagree. But suggesting that such an option is simply not on the table completely ignores the fact that a few key members of congress firmly believe not only that it’s on the table, but that SRB’s should be taken off. As to whether it will amount to anything, that’s harder to say.

  • Is this anything more than a call to do trade studies on liquid SLS boosters versus solid SLS boosters? I do not read Shelby (or Boxer or Feinstein for that matter) walking back on SLS, but rather asking whether the boosters should be solid or liquid.

    Haven’t liquid booster upgrades for STS derived systems have long been seen as an option within the NASA Industrial complex. Haven’t liquid fly-back booster concepts been floated as an option for STS for decades?

    It seems to me that even if solid RSRM boosters are replaced with RP-1 boosters, SLS will remain shuttle derived.

  • Aremis Asling

    “Because space leadership is utterly lacking from the Whitehouse, the space program will now degenerate into interstate squabbles over contracts. ”

    Degenerate into interstate squabbles? That’s all it has been since Kennedy made the infamous speech. It took GWB’s NASA just as long to pick a rocket and there was just as much squabbling over who would build it at the time. I am as shocked by partisan squabbling over the space vehicle contracts as I was to see the sun come up this morning.

  • I’d wait for the SLS configuration / approach decision to be released by HQ’s before making such statements. as Churcill was quoted, ….” this is just the end of the begining…”

    I agree with this statement, it could just prove out the ATK is still very much in the game.

    That said, rebidding all of these contracts, and accepting new ones from Aerojet/Teledyne on a fixed price basis is very paradigm changing and good for the taxpayers in the long run.

    The status-quo looks to be dying Windy, suck it up!

  • Actually, to replace ATK solids with new yet-to-be-developed all liquid boosters adds additional pork to SLS.

    Which could explain why Shelby likes the idea.

  • amightywind

    No, we have a project to upgrade the J2 to J2-X. The difference is not subtle.

    The project is well advanced.

    Haven’t liquid fly-back booster concepts been floated as an option for STS for decades?

    The shuttle program ends next month. How long do you propose we screw with this? The feckless indecision in much of the space community is breathtaking.

    In the end the folks who wanted to keep the status quo are losing…aint it grand.

    The narcissist RGO is ever fond of an end zone dance, whether it is merited or not.

  • Aremis Asling

    “Haven’t liquid booster upgrades for STS derived systems have long been seen as an option within the NASA Industrial complex.”

    They’ve been an option, but one we never pursued. And thus it is not shuttle-derived. Not even remotely. They also suggested shuttle be sold to commercial launchers, but that doesn’t make the Space Act agreement with Sierra Nevada shuttle derived either. A liquid booster for SLS will not be just an SRB with different gas in the tank, so to speak. It would be a new booster. Had we actually done that with shuttle, your argument would hold, but we didn’t, so it doesn’t. And while SLS is still likely to use SSME’s and ET structures, as well as others, axing the SRB’s is a significant change from shuttle components. Not majority, but significant, nonetheless.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind blew:

    What can they possibly offer? Anybody know?

    Money for his state.

    For someone that thinks they know everything, how can you be so ignorant of a politicians motives?

    The nation needs you Mike Griffin!

    He’s the one that got us where we are (i.e. lack of competition for mega-dollar systems). Congress already repudiated his handling of the Constellation program by canceling it, so I doubt they would want to repeat that mistake again.

    Regardless of this temporary competitive diversion, the SLS will likely be cancelled during the 2013 Congressional budget battles, since Congress has refused to allocate any money to actually use the thing.

  • Aremis Asling

    “The narcissist RGO is ever fond of an end zone dance, whether it is merited or not.”

    Pot? This is kettle, you should know…

  • If the politicos allow Aerojet/Teledyne to compete for at least the booster portion of the SLS business, I look for ULA and/or SpaceX to say that they want to compete as well. However, I would expect in that case a legal argument will be made that it is anticompetitive not to allow them to submit a proposal for an entire vehicle not based in any way on shuttle technology. If the politicos balk at this after letting Aerojet/Teledyne in on the game, litigation can be expected because the A/T deal will imply competition and their are laws against restrictions to competition due to favoritism.

  • Coastal Ron

    Bill White wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 9:57 am

    It seems to me that even if solid RSRM boosters are replaced with RP-1 boosters, SLS will remain shuttle derived.

    Certainly the term “Shuttle-derived” needs to be reexamined.

    The SRM’s were probably the most Shuttle-derived of any of the SLS components, since the external tank is not even supposed to be the same diameter (essentially a different design).

    I think what the SLS will use the most of from Shuttle is infrastructure, such as the crawler and VAB. Certainly the politicians want the Shuttle workers to be repurposed too, but parts-wise I think it’s more “Shuttle-inspired” than “Shuttle-derived”.

    My $0.02

  • tu8ca

    amightywind wrote …
    “We don’t [ ] zero stage boosters, we have the SRB. … What can they possibly offer? Anybody know?”

    How about a booster that doesn’t cost $60M a piece, or a booster that advances the state of the art instead of the art of stagnation ?

  • Rhyolite

    “I do not read Shelby (or Boxer or Feinstein for that matter) walking back on SLS, but rather asking whether the boosters should be solid or liquid.”

    No, they are not backing away from SLS, which is unfortuante. On the other hand, a well structure competition and fixed price contracts are likely to result in a lower cost SLS and less resouces wasted. This is potentially a less bad – which is not to say good – alternative to the direction congress has been pushing.

  • common sense

    Next up: MPCV. In the best of cases some one will ask to re-bid MPCV/Orion. Just watch. In what way can the government redirect an old contract to a new contract without competition or approval from the entire industry? It probably isn’t legal either. It’s akin to sole source procurement and sole source requires strong justification. So why would LMT be the only one to design and build MPCV again?

    Then again, CCDev will be flying for sometime when MPCV possibly shows up atop an LV without any LAS nor any crew. What’s the value of MPCV again?

    SLS will not fly.
    MPCV will not fly.

    Ah reality… You can’t live with it, you can’t change it…

  • amightywind

    How about a booster that doesn’t cost $60M a piece, or a booster that advances the state of the art instead of the art of stagnation ?

    How intricate does the solution need to be when the job is to heave 3000 tons through the lower atmosphere to mach 3? Yeah, lets quibble about $60 million when it will cost $ billions to develop a kerolox booster that does the same job. Fool! I’ll say it again. NASA is dying because it lacks a strong leader who will not distracted by petty local politics and the technological peanut gallery.

  • Rhyolite wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I believe an SLS that uses J2X rather than RL-10 for the upper stage and uses new all liquid boosters rather than ATK RSRM will cost considerably more and be delayed considerably longer when compared to the simplest inline variations.

    These developments are adding pork, not carving it away.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Thanks for the background summary, RGO.
    AA, I am truly amazed as well.
    I think that ATK never expected competition on solids from Aerojet.

    For the rest of you, THE only correct answer to the “Why?” question:
    http://www.oocities.org/epgrondine/

    which proceeded by several years and has a less expensive architecture than this more technical study:
    http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20050186565_2005187872.pdf

    As far as the timing goes:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/73P/Schwassmann%E2%80%93Wachmann

    2022 is the deadline to have some pretty good ways of tracking and dealing with 73P’s small fragments.

    With the Next Gen telescope and the large Mars rover both going way over budget, and given the unnecessary and avoidable technical limits of the large Mars rover, could Bolden please relieve Ed Weiler now?

  • Here’s my take from what I know. First the Senators cannot endorse a plan that eliminates competition and increases cost for the government for the same thing. Everyone knows that ATK needs a hair cut as they have been using their TBTF position to ramp up prices well above the actual costs for decades. Also true to a lesser extent for the other STS suppliers. Such are the wages of having limited competition over decades. All they, or anyone in similar position, need to do is make sure the price premium is less than cost of wholesale replacement which involves a very expensive development and flight qualifications cycle (ie an Areojet SRB).

    Unfortunately this industry as a whole doesn’t have a significant private sector to fall back on should they lose a significant government bid. So in order to sustain just two viable competitors the government must jerry rig the bidding process from time to time so that sometimes one guy wins sometimes the other guy wins thereby dividing the what limited work there is across two organizations.

    It all comes back to the fact that there is no significant private market for most of this stuff for the bid loser to fall back on if they lose. If they lose in a winner take all competition they will either leave the market or go out of business. Either way their exit leaves the winner with a monopoly position usually for decades if not for the life of the program. A monopoly position where prices then gradually grow to just under the cost of replacement. And don’t think for a minute that if SpaceX was in similar position they wouldn’t do the same thing, they have shareholders just like everyone else.

    Anyway, here’s how I see this working out for the benefit of the taxpayer.

    First we go with our first test flight using the existing SRB, Engines, and Tank and STS stack configuration (ie Jupiter-130 classic), while simultaneously putting out competitive bids for all the above that will meet or exceed the price and capabilities of this basic ‘test’ configuration circ 2016-18. In such a scenario ATK will at least be forced to lower its bid closer to the actual cost of making SRB. Another scenario is that the SRB are replaced with Kero/LOX boosters based upon the Atlas engines (will need to be domesticated at some point) or perhaps the engine proposed by SpaceX.

    And no we can’t upgrade the lift capacity by simply clustering up more existing cores. You must increase the core diameter in order to take advantage of the increased lift capacity unless the primary product you are placing in orbit is lead. Fortunately we already have a facility that can turn out 8.4m cores and launch infrastructure capable of launching them with two boosters on each side of the 8.4m core.

    Anyway, in the scenario above we get the Jupiter-130 classic to the pad quickly while enabling its evolution to an even lower cost launch system of around $500-750 million dollars for two launches per year or about $3K/kg. Plus we finally have a Kero/Lox engine shared amongst SLS, ULA and SpaceX. Eliminating the heat load from the SRB could also potentially put the RS-68 back in play as well. Not bad. No Millennium Falcon level improvement for sure but a significant improvement none the less.

  • Facts Ma'am

    In other news, SpaceX sues Valador, Inc, and Joe Fragola.

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/06/16/37414.htm

    You heard it here first. Or last.

  • Aremis Asling

    “In other news, SpaceX sues Valador, Inc, and Joe Fragola.”

    From the article:

    ” SpaceX then quotes an email that it claims Fragola sent to a NASA official in NASA’s Washington headquarters, on June 8: “I have just heard a rumor, and I am trying now to check its veracity, that the Falcon 9 experienced a double engine failure in the first stage and that the entire stage blew up just after the first stage separated. I also heard that this information was being held from NASA until SpaceX can ‘verify’ it.”

    Seriously? Where the heck did he come up with that? Assuming the email is genuine (and I can because I don’t have to presume innocence as I’m not a court), this is akin to accusing a defendant of murder when the victim is sitting in the court room alive and well. There are any number of claims that could have been made regarding SpaceX failures during launch that would prove challenging to verify, but two engine outs and a catastrophic failure would be awfully hard to miss. And the video is readily available to anyone interested. Not to mention range safety was directly involved and would immediately be able to attest to any complete destruction of vehicle components.

    I normally am rather wary of litigation. But if there was, indeed, any delay or damage to SpaceX’s ISS bid as a result of this, I have no issue with them suing Valador. If nothing else for a cease and decist order.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen Metschan wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    how are things on fantasy island?

    three points.

    SpaceX does not have shareholders (at least yet) we are all waiting for the IPO.

    Second. the first three paragraphs are mostly babble. I am not sure what you are trying to say but Shelby’s decision is not about price of the ATK hardware or how it got that way, it is about limited federal dollars and the reality that there is not 16 or even 10 billion for a new launch system and that anything that can be cobbled together from shuttle parts will take more money then that.

    Third that means that your statement “First we go with our first test flight using the existing SRB, Engines, and Tank and STS stack configuration”

    you have gotten almost everything wrong and I have gotten it mostly correct so let me tell you what is going to happen.

    There is going to be some pain to get to a open bid, but that is what is going to happen. As noted earlier Shelby and some other folks have seen the cost for a real shuttle derived system, something like you mention; and everyone is getting sticker shock.

    There is going to be a real bid on this because the DoD wants a cheaper launch vehicle, and one slightly heavier (but less expensive) then the Delta IV heavy class…and Boeing Lockmart SpaceX and probably a few other “groups” are going to put concepts together. Those are going to come in at less then 4 billion and 4 years for development and under 400 million a launch….

    Follow the money

    There will never be a “Jupiter” aka DIRECT thing built nor will we even try to build it.

    As Bones would say “Its dead Jim”.

    Do you have a second act? RGO

  • And don’t think for a minute that if SpaceX was in similar position they wouldn’t do the same thing, they have shareholders just like everyone else.

    This is a meaningless comment. Every company has shareholders, but that doesn’t mean that every company behaves the same way. SpaceX is still controlled by Elon Musk, and likely will be even after it goes public.

  • tu8ca

    amightywind wrote
    “… Yeah, lets quibble about $60 million when it will cost $ billions to develop a kerolox booster that does the same job.
    who said anything about kerolox?

    Fool! I’ll say it again. NASA is dying because it lacks a strong leader who will not distracted by petty local politics and the technological peanut gallery.”

    No, NASA is dying because it’s caught between congress on one side and the prime contractors on the other – contractors who’ve enjoyed decades of monopolies on their shuttle parts and are now so bloated they require between 10 and 100X what SpaceX needs for development.

    NASA isn’t needed to develop rockets anymore. Private companies are now doing it.

    NASA is needed to drive the state of the art – to fund and push technology in ways that commercial can’t.

  • Facts Ma'am

    Fortunately we already have a facility that can turn out 8.4m cores and launch infrastructure capable of launching them with two boosters on each side of the 8.4m core.

    That’s a bug, not a feature.

  • amightywind wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 9:19 am
    “…Because space leadership is utterly lacking from the Whitehouse…”

    The White House has shown courageous leadership in steering NASA to this new more cost effective world. Especially in face of a hostile Congress on both aisles seeking to preserve fat for their constituents. Thanks to Prez Obama and Charlie Bolden (among others) the chaos of waste is starting to subside and we’ll end up with a much more vibrant and cost effective decade of space travel and exploration!

    Thank you Mr. President for what you’re getting done with NASA !

  • kayawanee

    Coastal Ron wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 11:53 am
    Bill White wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I think what the SLS will use the most of from Shuttle is infrastructure, such as the crawler and VAB.

    Well, if they return to liquid fuel only launch vehicles, they may once again use the VAB for office space, no? Wasn’t the reason that they vacated that building of all non-essential personnel due to the fact that they had a fully fueled vehicle there (SRB’s)? Might lead to additional cost saving by removing the need for additional office facilities.

  • Peter Lykke

    Av-week has this article:

    http://tinyurl.com/6ee39mq

    Apparantly it’s going to end up with a closed competition for a booster contract.

    Hmm – is that good news?

  • Scott Bass

    You reckon I can just paint my Ares V rocket and make a new nameplate ;) ….. They really should name the new design too…..sls is about as inspiring as iss

  • Das Boese

    Need I remind those who doubt the utility of liquid boosters of Zenit, derived from the 100 metric ton Energia SHLV?
    Liquid boosters have a far better potential to be used in a commercial role (and thus saving money) than solids.

  • Das Boese

    Stephen Metschan wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    First we go with our first test flight using the existing SRB, Engines, and Tank and STS stack configuration (ie Jupiter-130 classic), while simultaneously putting out competitive bids for all the above that will meet or exceed the price and capabilities of this basic ‘test’ configuration circ 2016-18.

    This is completely ridiculous. What purpose would the “test flight” serve, other than burning up money, if the tested elements might be thrown out anyway? There’s not even a payload FFS!

    And no we can’t upgrade the lift capacity by simply clustering up more existing cores. You must increase the core diameter in order to take advantage of the increased lift capacity unless the primary product you are placing in orbit is lead.

    Even the largest modules we have placed into space so far, the modules of the ISS, comfortably fit the payload fairings of existing launchers. There is no payload in existence that would require more.
    In any case the vast majority of what a HLV would deliver to orbit would be propellant… which is kind of like lead, in the sense that it doesn’t really care what diameter fairing you put it in, and you don’t really need a HLV for it.

    Fortunately we already have a facility that can turn out 8.4m cores and launch infrastructure capable of launching them with two boosters on each side of the 8.4m core.

    The troubles with STS-133 have demonstrated that the people who built the external tanks do not even understand their own structure and manufacturing process after 30 bloody years, something which is virtually unfathomable in any commercial production process in the world… and now you want to bolt a set of engines onto that structure, built by those people, exposing it to entirely new loads and stresses? Can you not see that this is insane?

  • Dennis Berube

    Already there is a MPCV/ Orion being shipped to Florida. I think she will fly!

  • Vladislaw

    Stephen Metschan wrote:

    “Anyway, here’s how I see this working out for the benefit of the taxpayer.”

    Here’s a different take on what would benefit the taxpayer. Get NASA out of the launch business altogether. Have NASA worry about funding and building the actual payloads that have to be launched into space.

    NASA can only afford so many payloads and all that having their own launch system will do it cut back on the actual number of payloads they can put into space.

    SpaceX is talking about 50+ tons LEO. Let NASA build 50 ton modules of actual space hardware and get it launched for 80-125 million per launch. Then let the private sector launch the fuel for NASA’s space based, exploration vehicle.

    Now THAT would really benefit the taxpayer.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Scott Bass wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 4:16 pm this is the last act in the end of the entire effort…it is how government projects die RGO

  • vulture4

    I just don’t think that is fair. The Shuttle has had 134 flights; that is barely a complete flight test program; even the X-15 made 199. The design of the external tank was modified recently to change to a very different material, aluminum-lithium alloy, which reduced its weight by several _tons_, which substantially increased shuttle performance. Such a major change can result in unanticipated failure modes, which have some risk. In this case there was quite a bit of redundancy in the design and it would almost certainly not have caused the structure to fail, though obviously it’s much better that the damage was identified and repaired.

    Aluminum-lithium will soon be widely used in aviation; in some respects it can compete with composites, but so far as I know the ET is the first really large structure to utilize it, so the experience gained is valuable.

    The fact that numerous improvements have been made, even in recent years, in the Shuttle again shows the absurdity of the claim that there was no plan to utilize it past the completion of the initial configuration of the ISS..

  • Scott Bass

    I really do hope your wrong Robert, I would like to see this succeed

  • Scott Bass

    Btw Robert…. Is there a measuring stick you use to determine when a ship does get built….. Is it metal cutting, another budget cycle? It looks like Orion will be ready to fly before long….are you really expecting them to abandon that too or change gears and certify a commercial rocket to carry it? I am just curious about your train of thought as to what’s going to happen if you are so sure it will not fly.

  • “Already there is a MPCV/ Orion being shipped to Florida. I think she will fly!”

    Dream on, little broomstick cowboy.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    Dennis Berube wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 5:35 pm
    Already there is a MPCV/ Orion being shipped to Florida. I think she will fly!

    Ha ha ha ha ha! More rubbish. What sort of vehicle is being shipped? What are the capabilities? What engines? What guidance system? What heat shield?

    Dennis you just crack me up!!

  • Major Tom

    “Av-week has this article:

    http://tinyurl.com/6ee39mq

    Apparantly it’s going to end up with a closed competition for a booster contract.

    Hmm – is that good news?”

    If Morring’s article is accurate, it’s a small step in the right direction. Competition is always a good thing. Either the costs of ATK’s SRBs will come down (if ATK wins) or NASA will be able to completely forgo the ~$1B annual cost of maintaining the SRB infrastructure (if Aerojet wins). Ideally the competition woiuld not be closed (I did not see that in Morring’s article) so even more efficient proposals than Aerojet’s can compete.

    That said, this competition doesn’t address any of the other major SDLV cost issues:

    – an expensive core stage engine (RS-25/26) that will now be thrown away on every launch and that no one else uses (i.e., shares costs on);

    – two different first-stage engines (RS-25/26 in the core and solids or AJ-26 derivatives in the boosters) with doubled production, infrastructure, and workforce costs;

    – an upper stage engine (J-2X) that won’t be ready until 2017 according to GAO and that no one else uses (i.e., shares costs on);

    – ET tankage and structure production that no one else uses (i.e., shares costs on); and

    – multi-month launch delays from RS-25/26 gaseous hydrogen leaks and ET structure production errors.

    Solving these HLV costs issues is straightforward — just compete the entire SLS. ULA can deliver a 75-ton EELV Phase 2 for something over $2.3B (call it $2.5B.) SpaceX can deliver a 150-ton Falcon derivative for $2.5B.

    http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/docs/publications/EELVPhase2_2010.pdf

    http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=space&id=news/awst/2010/11/29/AW_11_29_2010_p28-271784.xml

    That’s two viable competitors from established launch companies, each of which costs a fraction of the nearly $7 billion SLS budget (FY11-13) in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Both of these options entirely avoid the Shuttle-derived costs issues above. Instead of blowing $7 billion on an partially developed SDLV that will still needs another $7 billion to complete development by the congressionally mandated 2016 goal, NASA could but two, operationally redundant, and competing HLLVs and still have $2 billion left over for other human space exploration hardware development. Costs could double on one of these options, and NASA would still wind up with two HLLVs within the $7 billion budget.

    The competition should be open — SDLVs should be allowed to compete. But they should only win if they can beat ~$2.5B development cost for competing HLLV alternatives. There’s no indication that an SDLV can do so.

    FWIW…

  • Heavy lift is great but we also need to keep investing in new technologies that will benefit, enable and cut costs for the entire industry:
    NASA Program: Self-Healing Multifunctional Composites Made Using Carbon Nanotubes
    Self repairing turbine blades?
    Lets not lose new tech investments either Mr. Shelby.

  • vulture4

    It is bizarre that Shelby is now calling for competition when he was the champion of the SRB-based HLLV. But both SpaceX and Boeing/ULA have taken a more rational approach and said that if somebody needs an HLLV they will build one just by making larger but basically evolutionary versions of their current boosters.

    Does NASA really need such a booster? What will the cost be per launch? Where is the money going to come from for manned flight the moon, Mars or an asteroid? How much would the mission cost per person sent to some BEO destination? How many flights would be made? Would they continue indefinitely, or would the program be cancelled when people got bored with it? What practical benefit would there be to the average American?

  • Bennett

    Dennis Berube wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Don’t cream your jeans, Dennis, it’s a demonstration model. You know, a mock up.

    Cripes folks, I need a launch fix. A manifest is all well and good, but nothing beats nine flaming engines boosting payload.

  • Bennett

    Vladislaw wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Yeah, you’re absolutely correct. But it’s tough getting common sense like that across to a congressional staffer with an early lunch on his/her mind…

    Still, it is the obvious solution to every problem, except status quo jobs.

  • nom de plume

    After all the political flack they have taken over the past year, I find it hard to believe that NASA would come up with a Final Plan w/o running it by some key politicians. Could NASA hve floated this SLS-competition balloon weeks ago through Feinstein’s, Boxer’s, and Shelby’s staff? Maybe NASA came hat in hand, explained the possible advantages for the Senators’ respective constituent-contractors as well as the fiscal realities of budget that NASA cited in their January draft plan; i.e., not enough funding to develop the SLS using Shuttle-derived parts and incumbent contractors. Result was the Senators bought into the Plan and publically declared the need for NASA to allow competition. It is a sort of win for NASA, making a bad situation a little less so, possibly decreasing SLS cost and timeline. And the Senators get credit for seeming to make the process more competitive & cheaper and maybe their states will win some large NASA contracts. Our political process and making sausage requires a strong stomach.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Av Week breaks the story fast – nice reporting work there.

    Strange world – So its not solids against solids, as it appeared earlier today, its Glushko’s RD engines versus Kunetzsov’s NK 33 engines for re-usable use.

    ULA versus Orbital for this tech?

    DIRECT had its time, but it looks like that time has now passed.
    ATK has no one except itself to blame.

    The SLS that has emerged smells pretty good to me.

    Nice work by either Bolden’s design team,or by AF designers, and astute maneuvering by Aerojet and Orbital – making very good use of existing national assets in Alabama and elsewhere in the country.

    My guess is that this will play well in Florida in the next elections.
    More importantly, on budget and schedule for use in 2022 and thereafter.

  • Rhyolite

    Bill White wrote @ June 16th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    “I believe an SLS that uses J2X rather than RL-10 for the upper stage and uses new all liquid boosters rather than ATK RSRM will cost considerably more and be delayed considerably longer when compared to the simplest inline variations.”

    Regarding the booster, there are a couple of possible outcomes. If a proposed liquid booster comes out more expensive than ATK’s, then ATK wins the competition. On the other hand, if a liquid booster comes out more cheaper, then liquids wins. And even ATK wins in the end, they will be forced to bid lower prices and better terms because they know the competition is breathing down their neck.

    Regarding the other design choices such as the upper stage engine, this is exactly why the whole vehicle should be put out to bid. Let the bidder with the cheapest solution win, preferably on a fixed price per launch basis.

  • Dennis Berube

    Remember here too, it is like anything else, you get what you pay for, or cheaper isnt always the better…

  • Remember here too, it is like anything else, you get what you pay for

    Not when it comes to NASA. You generally get a lot less than you pay for.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    The SLS will either be properly competed for or it will just become another dog’s breakfast of a mess. If the current press reports are anywhere near correct, then that’s what’s in progress now. If this happens, then nothing will fly and it’ll just be a jobs program until it becomes too expensive again for Congress. Sad! Unless it’s another holding strategy by Bolden et al to provide time for commercial.

  • Dennis Berube

    If solid boosters are used from the onset, I think that is what we will stay with way into the future. I really dont see the extra money being spent on developemtn of liquids to assist in lofting heavy loads ot space.

  • vulture4

    Continuing to use the Shuttle SRBs made sense as long as the Shuttle was flying, as they were a sunk cost. But they require a lot of expensive infrastructure and hazardous ops to process, and it makes no sense to use them in a new program. Time and again we have seen legacy hardware used in an attempt to save on development cost, and the result has often been higher operational cost and lower reliability.

  • Dennis Berube

    The SRBs have proven very reliable Id say! How many times havethey flown throughout shuttle history, also on the Areas 1-X. I think they have without a doubt proven themselves.

  • It will be cheaper to do that than to continue to use the SRBs, at least as long as it isn’t done on a NASA cost-plus contract.

    I think they have without a doubt proven themselves.

    They have proven themselves to be very expensive in operations costs, very heavy to move to launch pads, very rough on hardware in terms of vibration, very dangerous to handle, necessitating evacuation of facilities to all but essential crew, very inflexible in terms of their ability to throttle in real time or shut down, very…

    The only reason they were ever chosen was to pinch pennies during the Shuttle program. They were never a good idea for a practical launch system.

  • Sorry, first sentence of previous post was in response to:

    I really dont see the extra money being spent on developemtn of liquids to assist in lofting heavy loads ot space.

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis Berube wrote @ June 25th, 2011 at 10:46 am

    The SRBs have proven very reliable Id say!

    Reliability is a must when dealing with any kind of transportation, space or otherwise. If something experiences a problem, then something is done to solve it (fix, modify, substitute, etc.). Certainly this was the issue after Challenger, when the SRB’s had to be fixed so they wouldn’t blow up more Shuttles.

    The biggest question is cost, and that’s one that you ignore.

    Can existing transportation systems satisfy the need, or does a new system need to be created? How much do alternatives cost, such as designing payloads to fit on existing launchers?

    Congress bypassed this by specifying a solution (SLS) before a problem was identified (what it is needed for). Until you can identify what the need is, then you can never identify the alternatives, or even a need to spend money at all (i.e. cancel SLS).

    That’s where we are today, in that Congress has not provided the funding for NASA to build any payloads for the SLS. Not even one! Much less a whole series of SLS-sized payloads that would be needed to justify operating the SLS for a decade or more.

    So stop focusing on just the SRB’s, and look at the need for the SLS (or lack thereof).

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