NASA

GAO report warns of cost and schedule risks to SLS

In contrast to NASA and industry claims that work on the Space Launch System (SLS) is on track, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Wednesday warned that tight schedules and budgets could delay the first launch of that heavy-lift rocket.

The report, requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), warned that the flat budget profile for development of SLS may be insufficient to keep the program on track for a first launch in December 2017. “The SLS program office calculated the risk associated with insufficient funding through 2017 as having a 90 percent likelihood of occurrence,” the report stated. “[F]urthermore, it indicated the insufficient budget could push the planned December 2017 launch date out 6 months and add some $400 million to the overall cost of SLS development.”

The development of the core stage, which is driving the overall SLS schedule, is compressed and much of its schedule reserve may already be spoken for, the GAO report found. “The SLS program is tracking threats to the core stage schedule that could take up as much as 70 percent of the 7 months of reserve,” it stated. “While these challenges are not overly complex from a technical viewpoint, resolving such threats to the schedule is critical because the element is in early development phases and still has several significant milestones and developmental activities ahead.”

That assessment contrasts with what NASA and industry have said about the status of SLS work, painting at time a rosy picture of progress on development of the rocket. In a discussion in May at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Ginger Barnes, vice president and program manager for SLS at Boeing, said the company was heading into the critical design review for the SLS core stage five months ahead of schedule.

The GAO report also addressed some other issues with the SLS, including the fact that its long-term missions, beyond the EM-2 mission in 2021 that will be the first to carry a crew, remain unclear. That uncertainty affects plans to develop upgrades to the SLS to incerase its payload capacity to 105 and eventually 130 metric tons. The GAO was also critical of plans not to compete a higher-performance upper stage for SLS, saying NASA’s rationale that Boeing won a competitive Constellation contract in 2007 didn’t reflect changes in the industry since then, including work by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.

The GAO report cautioned that if the SLS suffered cost and schedule overruns, other NASA programs could be at risk if NASA decided to pay for SLS by taking money from them. “Although cost and schedule growth can occur on any project, increases associated with NASA’s most costly and complex missions— such as SLS, which makes up about 9 percent of NASA’s annual budget—can have dramatic effects on the availability of funding for NASA’s portfolio of major projects.”

NASA, in a response, suggested it would not seek additional funding or delay SLS in order to meet the desired 70-percent confidence level in the program’s cost and schedule estimates. “[D]elaying the SLS development schedule or diverting funding from other priorities to satisfy a schedule confidence level could jeopardize these goals and result in an increase in costs to the taxpayer,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, wrote in a response to the GAO included in the report. “Plans are in place to adjust schedule and minimize costs within the agency commitment if either funding levels decrease or technical problems arise.”

160 comments to GAO report warns of cost and schedule risks to SLS

  • Timmy Newton

    I blame NASA that these programs (SLS/MPCV/Orion) even exist.

    • Vladislaw

      Blame President Johnson for creating a pork based program to sell Apollo to congress. For decades the system has been refined to do EXACTLY what it currently does.

  • Coastal Ron

    Timmy Newton said:

    I blame NASA that these programs (SLS/MPCV/Orion) even exist.

    You can blame whoever you want, but in the FY11 NASA Budget request that asked for the cancellation of the Constellation program, neither the SLS nor the Orion/MPCV were requested.

    • Timmy Newton

      SLS/MPCV/Orion is indistinguishable from Constellation. If Constellation had never existed, then these programs would not exist. NASA drank the koolaide and is still drinking the koolaide. NASA gave the koolaide to congress to drink and they drank it too. I reiterate. I blame NASA entirely.

      • pipersupercub

        NASA does what Congress tells them to do. Not the other way around.

      • Vladislaw

        The entire upper eshalon of NASA could fall on their swords at public congressional meetings. It would not matter. Some member of congress would tell the President THIS is the only nominee for NASA Administrator that the senate will confirm. That person would become Administrator and start hiring according to congressional desires and a whole new batch of NASA personal would be put in place to serve the status quo.

      • Coastal Ron

        Timmy Newton said:

        NASA gave the koolaide to congress to drink and they drank it too. I reiterate. I blame NASA entirely.

        I’m not sure you know how your government works, and how politics in the U.S. works.

        NASA works for whoever the President is, and the President sends budget requests to Congress for funding everything, including NASA.

        The FY11 NASA Budget Estimate requested that the Constellation program be ended, did NOT request an HLV or a continuance of the Orion spacecraft, and instead requested funding for things that we need if we want to leave LEO.

        Instead, CONGRESS, not “NASA”, told NASA to build the SLS and the de-scoped Orion (i.e. the MPCV version). Sure the President signed off on the deal because it cancelled the Constellation program, saved the ISS, and created the Commercial Crew program, and I’d take that deal today too. But Obama has not supported the SLS (as Congress keeps pointing out) other than letting NASA proposed the ARM.

        And I’m no fan of the SLS or Orion/MPCV, but I am a fan of historical accuracy.

        • Vladislaw

          As always, a great post. People just do not seem to understand just how much NASA is controled by the dicates for Congress rather than the Executive branch. If NASA budgeting was done as a single funding bill, I wonder how often Presidents, over the last 30 years, would have vetoed the NASA budget that congress proposes.

          • Coastal Ron

            It does seem like we end up doing a lot of basic education about government in our posts. I guess the only real positive thing about can say about pork politics is that he has forced me to learn more about how my government really functions than I knew previously.

            If only pork politicians would focus on the greater good…

            • Dick Eagleson

              If only pork politicians would focus on the greater good…

              If a pig had wings it would be a pigeon.

              If your aunt had balls she’d be your uncle.

              Need I continue?

        • Timmy Newton

          Instead, CONGRESS, not “NASA”, told NASA to build the SLS and the de-scoped Orion

          Actually, no, that’s either a lie or not true. They told NASA to build ‘something’ called the SLS and MPCV out of the parts of the Shuttle and Constellation, Boeing and NASA came up with an idiotic non-reusable design when everybody else who had any brains at all and was paying attention could already see what was coming very soon out of the engineering department of SpaceX. They completely ignored reality.

          Reality was handed to them on a golden platter, IN PRINT, and in practice, and they just plain ignored it. Now that the entire exercise has been revealed to them in videos to be a farce I am interested in what they are going to do about it since cancellation is still off the table and the two women congress(persons) who still have their jobs, are still trying to sell this thing to a gullible public. In fact the entire NASA upper echelon is still trying to sell this thing.

          The Donna and Eddie show. Explain that if you can.

          • Coastal Ron

            Timmy Newton said:

            Actually, no, that’s either a lie or not true.

            Why would I lie about the SLS? You apparently don’t know my position on it, nor the history I have for advocating for it’s termination.

            However I am a supporter of facts, and so far I’ve seen none from you. For me though, I can point to Senate Bill S.3729, which is what Congress wrote to create the SLS and Orion.

            All you have to do is read it to see that I’m right.

            …when everybody else who had any brains at all and was paying attention could already see what was coming very soon out of the engineering department of SpaceX.

            I’m also a big SpaceX fan, but again I’m also a fan of facts, and this is not supported by the facts nor is even relevant to the SLS.

            For instance, can you point to the facts that support your claim that Congress should have known about SpaceX efforts for reusability back in September of 2010? The SpaceX Grasshopper wasn’t even announced until late 2011, well after the design work for the SLS had been started.

            Considering that even Elon Musk says that reusability is a goal, not yet a reality, I’m not sure what you think “Donna and Eddie” should have been doing as members of the minority party in the House of Representatives (you know how much power that gives them, right?).

            And if anything, trying to make the SLS reusable – in any way – would have ended up wasting even MORE money. Let’s remember here, the goal is to STOP wasting money, not waste MORE. That means canceling it, not “improving” it.

            • Timmy Newton

              That means canceling it, not “improving” it.

              Cancellation is completely off the table. I thought that was widely understood by almost everybody. So you tell me, what are the alternatives?

              • Coastal Ron

                Timmy Newton said:

                Cancellation is completely off the table. I thought that was widely understood by almost everybody.

                No doubt Constellation supporters were saying the same just before it was cancelled.

                I don’t know about you, but I’ve been around long enough to have seen many “un-cancellable” programs cancelled. SLS is nothing different.

                So you tell me, what are the alternatives?

                Alternatives? To an unaffordable, unneeded government-owned HLV?

                The government doesn’t need to own or fund an HLV at this moment in history, so the “alternative” is to stop wasting money on the SLS and Orion and to start funding the technologies and techniques that are the real barriers to leaving LEO.

                And in case the technology funding doesn’t come along, and NASA’s budget goes down when SLS and Orion are cancelled, I’m OK with that too. The more pork we get rid of the easier it will be to get a fresh start the next time.

          • Vladislaw

            man are you ever naive. You do understand before congress allows NASA to say anything it has already been vetted and the back door bargaining is already a done deal. Boeing comes up with EXACTLY what THEIR congressional partners have already told them what they will fund and for how much. sheesh!

          • Vladislaw

            From the Senate bill that funded the SLS start up.

            “(1) IN GENERAL.—The Administrator shall, as soon as practicable after the date of the enactment of this Act, initiate development of a Space Launch System meeting the minimum capabilities requirements specified in subsection (c).

            (2) MODIFICATION OF CURRENT CONTRACTS.—In order to limit NASA’s termination liability costs and support critical capabilities, the Administrator shall, to the extent practicable, extend or modify existing vehicle development and associated contracts necessary to meet the requirements in paragraph (1), including contracts for ground testing of solid rocket motors, if necessary, to ensure their availability for development of the Space Launch System.

            (c) MINIMUM CAPABILITY REQUIREMENTS.—

            (1) IN GENERAL.—The Space Launch System developed pursuant to subsection (b) shall be designed to have, at a minimum, the following:

            (A) The initial capability of the core elements, without an upper stage, of lifting payloads weighing between 70 tons and 100 tons into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

            (B) The capability to carry an integrated upper Earth departure stage bringing the total lift capability of the Space Launch System to 130 tons or more.

            (C) The capability to lift the multipurpose crew vehicle.

            (D) The capability to serve as a backup system for supplying and supporting ISS cargo requirements or crew delivery requirements not otherwise met by available commercial or partner-supplied vehicles.

            (2) FLEXIBILITY.—The Space Launch System shall be designed from inception as a fully-integrated vehicle capable of carrying a total payload of 130 tons or more into low-Earth orbit in preparation for transit for missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The Space Launch System shall, to the extent practicable, incorporate capabilities for evolutionary growth to carry heavier payloads. Developmental work and testing of the core elements and the upper stage should proceed in parallel subject to appropriations. Priority should be placed on the core elements with the goal for operational capability for the core elements not later than December 31, 2016.”

            • Timmy Newton

              We’ve already beaten ‘practicable’ to death. ‘Availability’ does not require them to actually use them, that they only be available. The design wasn’t fixed until well after Musk’s April and May 2011 proclamations on Falcon Heavy cross feeding and reusability. If you thing that ‘demonstrated’ reusability in not happening or not going to happen you are delusional.

              You are defending the indefensible here, and it was indefensible in late 2010 and late 2011 just as it is still indefensible now. You are the problem.

              Good luck on defending December 31, 2016 and 130 tons as well. NASA has broken the law and they will continue to defend this nonsense until the USS Titanic sinks out of sight in the cold deep waters of the Indian Ocean.

              And you guys are still defending NASA. Go figure. That’s patriotism!

              • Dick Eagleson

                If you think these guys are defending NASA and SLS, you’re really new around here.

                And you have reading comprehension issues.

                For the record, these guys are all major league detractors of NASA and SLS, as am I. We are also major fans of SpaceX.

                Don’t shit where you live, Timmy.

              • Fred Willett

                Most respectable engineers has long concluded reusability was not practical. In the same way the scientists believed before the Wright Bros. That heavier than air flight was not practical.
                In deed even today there are engineers who, while conceding that Musk has landed a 1st stage will still tell you that that’s a long way from practical and economic reusability. After all shuttle SRB’s were recovered and reused, but was it economic? No.
                So to say – even at this stage –
                If you thing that ‘demonstrated’ reusability in not happening or not going to happen you are delusional
                is way over stating the case.
                At best engineers have their fingers crossed and are hoping. At worst some engineers are still in denial.

              • Timmy Newton

                At best engineers have their fingers crossed and are hoping.

                The best engineers don’t cross their fingers and hope. Maybe those engineers were among those who were recently let go at SpaceX.

              • Timmy Newton

                Don’t shit where you live

                Ok then I’ll get rid of my toilet and bathroom and go back to using an outhouse. That’s essentially what NASA has done here with SLS and Orion.

              • Vladislaw

                Timmy Newton wrote:

                “That’s essentially what NASA has done here with SLS and Orion.”

                No that is essentially what Congress has directed NASA to do with SLS and orion.

                AGAIN you are clueless, NASA does exactly what Congress appropriates funding for. The executive branch was against SLS and didn’t want to fund it. Congress appropiated funding for it. The President would have had to veto the entire appropriations bill, which NASA funding represented just a small part, in order to stop the funding for SLS. The executive branch did get the funding for the ISS and commercial crew, they called that a win and allowd the funding for SLS.

                you need to take a remedial civics 101 course

              • Timmy Newton

                AGAIN you are clueless, NASA does exactly what Congress appropriates funding for. The executive branch was against SLS and didn’t want to fund it. Congress appropiated funding for it.

                Again you are not hearing what I am saying. Congress authorized and funded something CALLED the SLS. The SLS was not actually designed and sent to PDR and CDR until long after those events, and congress and the executive branch had nothing to do with any of that. That was all NASA.

                The President would have had to veto the entire appropriations bill, which NASA funding represented just a small part, in order to stop the funding for SLS.

                The president had the option and the authority to do so, but chose not to. He also had the executive authority to influence the agency known as NASA to come up with a better design. But the NASA administrator through either incompetence of neglect failed to do his job as well. If he had done his job, then congress could have objected and stopped funding for the idiotic program and the problem would have been solved.

                A lot of things could of happened here, but what happened was that NASA and their primes came up with an idiotic design that everybody went along with out of ignorance, stupidity, neglect or apathy, when the truth is that with very little effort on their part a much better design of this system or outcome of their actions was readily available and all points throughout this long and torturous process, and to tell you the truth, those options are still available for all.

                To rescind NASA for any blame for this debacle is simply not credible. That being said, I am interested in any rational thoughts on credible alternatives to continuing this travesty until the next opportunity for cancellation of the programs occurs another three years from now.

              • Vladislaw

                Wow, you honestly belive that? Boeing, ATK, Lockheed Martian and their army of lobbyiest and Congressional stakeholders all sit silently on the sidelines and just lets NASA “do it’s thing” ?

                THere is constant interaction amoung ALL the stakeholders every step of the way.

              • Coastal Ron

                Timmy Newton said:

                He also had the executive authority to influence the agency known as NASA to come up with a better design.

                You need to read the actual legislation, since it’a apparent that you are ignorant of what the legislation told NASA to do with respect to the SLS.

                I’ll even make it easy for you – here is the bill:

                http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111s3729enr/pdf/BILLS-111s3729enr.pdf

              • Timmy Newton

                I honestly believe that you both are enabling NASA by defending them. It’s also clear that you have been unable to come up with any clear alternatives for the last three years, since the program still remains uncancelled, and I honestly believe that you are unwilling to come up with any clear alternatives to this for the next three years, when the programs come up for cancellation again with the new administration.

                So I reiterate, since cancellation is definitely off the table for three years, what do you propose to do besides continuing to enable NASA dysfunction by your continued defense of their complacency on this forum and every other forum that you inhabit and defend NASA with regularity? My positions and alternatives are clear since they have already been committed to print and delivered to NASA with regularity.

                I am always open to alternatives, but I’m not getting any from you, from NASA, from congress, from the executive branch or from space cadets or from the legacy industrialists. But I am getting them from some billionaire acquaintances of mine – very good real ones in fact.

              • Coastal Ron

                Timmy Newton said:

                I honestly believe that you both are enabling NASA by defending them.

                I’m defending facts, because if you don’t understand the facts you can’t understand how to address the issues at hand.

                So I reiterate, since cancellation is definitely off the table for three years…

                I disagree it is impossible. What we have been waiting for is a tipping point moment where light is shed on the unsustainable fiscal situation surrounding the SLS. The KDP-C report, which is late by a number of months, could provide that visibility.

                …what do you propose to do besides continuing to enable NASA dysfunction by your continued defense of their complacency…

                Pointing out how expensive and unneeded a government-owned HLV would be is not “enabling” NASA dysfunction.

                My positions and alternatives are clear since they have already been committed to print and delivered to NASA with regularity.

                Yes, I’m sure Bolden reads them every day… ;-)

                Look, you continue to be blissfully unaware that the SLS survives because of a handful of Senators, with Shelby and Nelson being the most supportive. Until the political calculus changes with respect to the money that flows to their states from NASA, they will resist any change to the status quo that ANYONE proposes, including you.

                I am always open to alternatives…

                So far all I’ve heard you propose is making the SLS reusable. And that makes me think you have posted here before under a different pseudonym, who also thought that turning the SLS into some sort of reusable launcher was THE ONLY WAY.

                There is NO funding for doing anything with an HLV, reusable or not, so spending money to make an unneeded transportation system reusable is a complete waste of money.

                If you think reusability is important, which I do, then we are better supporting private industry efforts on this (i.e. SpaceX for now), since they understand the issues and requirements far better than anyone in government – and they have the money. I would think that is painfully clear, but apparently you give more credit to government workers than I do… ;-)

              • Timmy Newton

                What we have been waiting for

                Ok, you’re waiting. I get that.

                So far all I’ve heard you propose is making the SLS reusable.

                That’s one of many many proposals I have fielded. Dozens by last count.

                There is NO funding for doing anything with an HLV, reusable or not

                That indicates to me that NASA and their contractors are incompetent because three billion dollars a year for the last ten years now is sufficient for anything that I can imagine related to legacy hardware, reusability and heavy lift launch vehicles. So I disagree with you.

                If you think reusability is important, which I do, then we are better supporting private industry efforts on this

                No, what you mean is ‘billionaire’ efforts on this. But what we are discussing is NASA and industry efforts here, and since NASA lets the contracts, I am talking about NASA efforts alone on this. Anyone else?

              • Dick Eagleson

                Timmy, me good lad,

                Why do you still think Coastal Ron is defending NASA and SLS? Because he tries to set you straight on where Rosemary’s Babies like SLS come from instead of buying into a bunch of hooey about cabbage leaves and storks? For the sake of your delicate condition I can’t warn you enough against ever reading a comment posted by amightywind. Your poor abused noggin will surely explode.

              • Timmy Newton

                I don’t bother with think they understand science and technology but obviously don’t. That pretty much includes you. But I’m open to legitimate and creative ideas even if they come from the fringe.

                When you get around to having some let me know. Any other takers? These kinds of discussions have an ever slow trickle up effect, but that is preferable to waiting yet another three years and 10 billion dollars.

                The thing that most of you don’t understand is that these legacy engines, while ultra high performance and generally unaffordable going forward, do exist in the inventories and are representative of tens of billions of dollars and decades of research and development on a military scale, and so are not reproducible by modern finances. Yet they are available for almost immediate use in creative reusable launch vehicle designs where even if they fail nobody is going to get hurt. The fact that reusable launch vehicle development opportunities have been frittered away by years of leaving them on the shelves in lieu of big expendable launcher development that only will result in cancellation, means that we need to think about investment and sunk costs recovery moving forward, since the amounts are very substantial.

                I don’t see any of you people thinking about this, let alone even discussing it or even publishing your thoughts about these problems.

                So when you’ve got something, I will certainly read it, but that requires that you write it down, if even on an enthusiast forum.

                All I see is waiting and defending and shifting around the blame. I place the blame squarely on the people writing the contracts here, and then move forward with the necessary creative ideas to change that.

            • Coastal Ron

              Timmy Newton said:

              The fact that reusable launch vehicle development opportunities have been frittered away…

              Are you aware of the concept of a “business case”? You know, like the one that NASA doesn’t have for the SLS (which is the fault of Congress, since they forced NASA to build the SLS).

              So far your “ideas” have lacked a business case, since they all depend on NASA using your retooled, reusable SLS.

              SpaceX has a business case for reusable rockets, since they have customers that would want lower launch costs. NASA doesn’t have funding to do anything that requires an HLV, much less a reusable one. That’s why canceling the SLS is the best, least costly course of action.

              So maybe it’s time for you to change your pseudonym again, since you’re repeating yourself from last year and we can all tell how much changed you’ve inspired (i.e. none)… ;-)

              • Timmy Newton

                That’s why canceling the SLS is the best, least costly course of action.

                Well enjoy your minimum of three more years of waiting for cancellation then. And even then the chances of it getting canceled again are very low, since the previous cancellation worked out so well for you, right?

              • Unfortunately, Timmy, I think you are quite correct. In politics, what should happen is rarely what does happen.

                — Donald

              • Dick Eagleson

                I see no decisive likelihood of SLS cancellation before 2017 either, unfortunately. Obama has never wanted the thing, but he cares nothing about space-related matters anyway, and his past excesses have rendered him effectively powerless for the remainder of his term. He’s certainly not going to expend any of his near-zero current balance of political capital by taking sides in a fight over something he never cared much about to begin with.

                By 2017, however, SpaceX and – one hopes – others will have put enough fresh facts on the ground that the new administration taking office in January of that year will feel it can safely excise the fiscal tumor that is SLS from NASA’s flesh without suffering significant adverse political or other consequences.

              • Timmy Newton

                Right, but in the meantime, while all you guys are waiting doing ahem … nothing, I and other will feel free to think forward about reusable BFRs and what can be done with them to realize your space pathetic unachievable cadet dreams that you refuse to even think about.

                I’m only noting that the SLS looks vaguely similar to a smallish BFR, unfortunately not reusable, indeed, not even capable of making orbit. Replace the SRBs with something that looks vaguely like multiple FHRs, replace the SSMEs with something that look vaguely like Blue Origin BE-3s, or even just add something in the center that looks vaguely like a BE-3 or a J2X and then you have something that could go to the moon. If you don’t think reusable BFRs are coming I can’t help you.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Timmy,

                I’ll freely admit I’ll be making no physical or financial contribution to advancing human spaceflight in the near term. All I expect to be able to do is continue posting comments to forums such as this by way of getting ideas of mine – that I am immodest enough to believe have some merit – out there in public. Perhaps, then, you can tell me how to “think forward about reusable BFRs and what can be done with them” differs in any substantive way from what I’ll be doing – or not doing?

                your space pathetic unachievable cadet dreams that you refuse to even think about

                This manages to be simultaneously insulting, condescending and internally incoherent in only a handful of words. An impressive achievement, even if of a decidedly pointless and unproductive type. How exactly is one even able to refuse to think about one’s own dreams?

                If you don’t think reusable BFRs are coming I can’t help you.

                No help required, fortunately. Why is it that you imagine I, or any of quite a number of others who comment here, do not share your belief that reusable BFR’s are coming? I certainly believe reusable BFR’s are on the way. The 1st-generation FHR should fly in about a year. Upgraded versions with second stages based on paired Merlin 1-D’s or a single Raptor could follow quickly. Within five years, SpaceX seems all but certain to roll out a reusable Raptor-based BFR, followed by a triple-core BFRH version. The latter should be able to put over 500 metric tons into LEO, perhaps for less than $100 per pound.

                There are a number of people who comment regularly on this site who are unpleasant when one disagrees with them. You have the singular distinction of being equally unpleasant when one agrees with you.

                It is evident you think rather highly of yourself and rather little of anyone else. Based on your posted comments of the past several days, I confess I detect no slightest trace of any basis for imagining that you are in any way deserving of what seems to be your baselessly high level of self-regard. Having encountered quite a number of people in my six-plus decades who were comparable legends in their own minds, I would like to invite you – speaking strictly for myself at this point – to either show us all some moves or to take your tiresome self somewhere else.

  • Andrew Swallow

    Standard request for more time and money.

    • Timmy Newton

      The koolaide contains a powerful hallucinogen. People need a ‘vision’ for space exploration and spiked koolaide is the cheapest and most effective way of providing it.

  • Coastal Ron

    [F]urthermore, it indicated the insufficient budget could push the planned December 2017 launch date out 6 months and add some $400 million to the overall cost of SLS development.

    We all know that the SLS is not being built for the kind of economic reasons that taxpayers care about, which is $/lb being transported, so just to put this $400M in perspective NASA could buy two flights on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy for a total of $270M, and that would put 106mt of mass in space (compared to 70mt for the initial SLS, or 105mt for the next SLS version).

    Plus, that $400M is going to have to be taken away from any future SLS payloads, so literally the SLS is killing itself.

    Just thought I’d point that out…

    • Fred Willett

      When Bolden was told by congress to build SLS he went to Booz Allen and got them to write a report on SLS.
      Their conclusion: after about 4-5 years we could see the program start to slip……… rrrrright!

    • RockyMtnSpace

      “We all know that the SLS is not being built for the kind of economic reasons that taxpayers care about, which is $/lb being transported, so just to put this $400M in perspective NASA could buy two flights on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy for a total of $270M, and that would put 106mt of mass in space (compared to 70mt for the initial SLS, or 105mt for the next SLS version).

      Plus, that $400M is going to have to be taken away from any future SLS payloads, so literally the SLS is killing itself.”

      Flawed logic. The $270M you reference also has to come out of any future FH payload. The end result is still the same, just a slightly slower death. You continue to harp on no NASA payloads identified for SLS but you never point to a NASA P/L for FH as an alternative. You can’t, because there isn’t one. And there hasn’t been a proposal put forward that would identify one even if SLS was killed tomorrow. More importantly, you never provide a compelling reason for human spaceflight in general, one that provides either a significant scientific return that cannot be attained robotically or economically significant that justifies the huge public investment necessary to support humans in space. As a point of reference, provide evidence of the 2x-3x economic return on the $100B+ investment in ISS and the $3B annual cost to sustain it. Until you can provide a compelling national need for human spaceflight, arguing about how to get humans into space is nothing more than a dirt road.

      • Coastal Ron

        RockyMtnSpace said:

        You continue to harp on no NASA payloads identified for SLS but you never point to a NASA P/L for FH as an alternative.

        And if you have read anything I’ve written on this subject in the past (which apparently you haven’t), you’d know that I was using Falcon Heavy as an example of comparison for SLS only, not for what I’d like to see for space exploration in the future. Because I advocate for space exploration architectures that using existing EELV-sized launchers, like Delta IV Heavy, Ariane 5, and H-IIB. Falcon Heavy can be part of that too, as long as the payloads are interchangeable.

        More importantly, you never provide a compelling reason for human spaceflight in general…

        I have, and it’s no different than what many other people have voiced – to make humanity multi-plantary.

        …one that provides either a significant scientific return that cannot be attained robotically or economically significant that justifies the huge public investment necessary to support humans in space.

        Not that you get to designate the standards by which all reasons for HSF are judged, but the reasons for making humanity multi-planetary are pretty self-evident. However how quickly that goal needs to be attained is eminently debatable. For myself, I think NASA’s current budget – without the SLS and Orion – could support the goal along with it’s other scientific missions. But absent an immediate need, the SLS and Orion do not support the goal.

        As a point of reference, provide evidence of the 2x-3x economic return on the $100B+ investment in ISS and the $3B annual cost to sustain it.

        You are reaching far afield on this one. Can you provide the same for ANY National Laboratory or research facility? Of course you can’t, because research-level science doesn’t work that way.

        The justification for the ISS is that without it we won’t be able to learn how to leave LEO for long periods of time. And at this point, with the ISS operational and the cost for any alternatives far higher, it’s a binary decision – yes or no.

        Until you can provide a compelling national need for human spaceflight, arguing about how to get humans into space is nothing more than a dirt road.

        Well, good to see you agree that the SLS should be cancelled until such time as a need for a government-owned HLV is found. GREAT! We’ll add your name to this list of our supporters. ;-)

      • Vladislaw

        X amount of humans want to move their brain cells from point A (earth) to point B (LEO) and from point B to point XYZ.

        We do need reasons for why or what they are going to do.

        When the Federal government has historically funded ALL forms of commercial transportation they never polled every single potential customer for the why they needed it or where they are planning on going and what they plan to do when they get there.

        There wasn’t a “science” return needed to build highways, fund fossil fuel exploration, refineries, or auto companies.

        Because space transportation was kept a government monopoly and not allowed the traditional commercial path we still see this differently when it comes to space travel. It shouldn’t be. We KNOW that people are willing to spend up to millions for commercial space transportation. That is ALL we need to know. We do not need to know or find a justification for why and what customer X or Y plans to do with the transportation.

        If space transportation would have been commercialized instead of the space shuttle we would not even be having these conversations. Upgrades and innovations would have been incorporated just as fast as in all other forms of commercial transportation, rather than the snail’s pace of the federal government tying itself to 40 year old technology and legacy systems.

        It is pointless to include the porkonauts in congress and how they steer NASA dollars into what is going to become, like all other transportation systems, commercial services with routine fixed prices.

        Commecial firms have a ROI, again pointless to talk about that for federal make work pork projects, because it is not about a ROI, it is about how many jobs in my district, how many contracts to contractors in my district and how much campaign funding my actions will receive.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Just thought I’ point out once again that we could have had DIRECT already operating for $3 billion, we leads me to point out that In My Opinion, Griffin was probably the worst Adminstrator NASA ever had.

    The current working space historians have yet to tell us exactly how ARES 1 came about – Griffin’s working papers. Instead they are wasting our time opining on matters of which I know they know very damn little.

    • Timmy Newton

      Any large SRB oriented HLV is doomed to cancellation, Ed. It was true back then and it’s guaranteed now. I didn’t happen and it’s not going to happen. Get over it.

    • E.P. Grondine: Griffin was probably the worst Adminstrator NASA ever had.

      While in an administrative sense, this probably isn’t true, in a strategic sense, I think you understate your case! That he spent most of the Constellation budget developing a medium-lift rocket (whatever the technology behind it) that duplicated what already existed was, simply, criminal. Had he not done that, and had we stuck with the original Constellation “Vision” developed in the Bush Administration, I think there’s a decent chance Constellation would have worked and we’d have a lunar base today. I think Mr. Bush was the worst President in recent history, and we will be paying for his foolish empire-building experiments as long as any of us are alive, but in space policy the Bush Administration got it exactly right for their moment in history, and as far as I can tell Dr. Griffin was responsible for screwing it up by turning “Constellation” into “Apollo on Steroids.”

      [On the other hand, starting COTS pays for a lot of sins, and for that reason alone, Dr. Griffin deserves his place in history.]

      — Donald

      • Vladislaw

        Donald, Griffin would have NEVER been confirmed by the Senate in the first place IF he had not did exactly what he did.

      • Mader Levap

        “On the other hand, starting COTS pays for a lot of sins, and for that reason alone, Dr. Griffin deserves his place in history.”
        Disagree. Griffin started COTS only because he thought it will fail. That everyone will end up like Kistler.
        As we all know, it backfired in his face spectacularly.

        So in my opinion he does not deserve any kudos for that.

    • Vladislaw

      When Griffin did the FLO report the SRB’s had already been flying for a decade and he chose not to use them. Even then he new they were to expensive. He gets named Administrator and he is a new ATK convert and SRB’s are the only way to go. Thank the UTAH delagation for that nightmare.

  • The SLS is being built because the Obama administration ‘claimed’ that it wanted to develop a heavy lift vehicle; but they wanted to study the problem first at a cost of more than $600 million a year over a five year period. Congress, of course, didn’t see the logic in studying something that had already been researched over and over and over again over the past 20 years. So they decided that there was no logical reason to wait five years to begin the development of a heavy lift vehicle that both the President and Congress claimed that they wanted.

    The SLS was also heavily lobbied for by Boeing Aerospace which is now the principal contractor for SLS development.

    The fact that the Obama administration doesn’t know what to do with a heavy lift vehicle, is not surprising since their interest in a heavy lift vehicle for NASA was a ruse right from the start!

    Marcel

    • Vladislaw

      peddling your BS again as usual. President Obama wanted the new engines built FIRST, he wanted for tech developed FIRST, he wanted the TRL on a lot of technology developed FIRST. The usual suspects in congress wanted to protect the space shuttle work force and that mean’t make work. A “Monster” rocket with an endless cost plus, fixed fee, sole sourced FAR development contracts for as far as the eye could see. Since the announcment of the Vision over a decade ago, we have got EXACTY what congress has wanted. ENDLESS FAR contracts and no actual hardware.

      You should stop living in your fantasy world where congress actually cares about hardware rather than jobs and contractors getting their no bid contracts.

      • Sorry if the hard facts hurt your feelings:-)

        The Obama administration’s original heavy lift research budget was $559 million the first year, $594 million the second year, $597, the third year, $598, and $754 million, the final year. Imagine, government workers being allowed to spend over $3 billion of the tax payer’s money with absolutely no requirements to produce anything.

        The fact that you thought that Congress should have gone along with this farce during the middle of a Great Recession– is astonishing!

        The fact that you think that Obama has any interest in space travel– is the fantasy! But he made that pretty clear during his first campaign for president when he advocated cutting NASA’s lunar program in order to fund social programs.

        Marcel

        • Vladislaw

          Show me the ACTUAL Obama budget for that spending. I want to see the actual lines in the budget where it stated “no requirements to produce anything”

          We have witnessed the last ten years of congressional dictates. CONsteallion, Ares I, Ares V, Orion, SLS, MPCV .. a freaking DECADE of no requirements to produce anything.. and that is exactly what we have got .. a decade of producing nothing but keeping the shuttle workforce and contractors doing makework

          Wake the hell up! sheesh

        • Joe

          Marcel,

          These guys are never going to think about anything beyond their own next glass of SpaceX cool-aid.

          Seriously, for your own sanity, leave them alone to endlessly rant about their delusions.

          Nobody outside of their (very narrow) circle are paying attention.

          • Vladislaw

            Laughable considering you were the only one to mention SpaceX not me.

            A decade of funding NASA, at 3 billion plus per year, and not one single launch in orbit for anything related to humans in space. Now THAT is delusional.

          • Coastal Ron

            Joe said:

            These guys are never going to think about anything beyond their own next glass of SpaceX cool-aid.

            If the SLS went away today there would be nothing for SpaceX to bid on to replace it, since the SLS isn’t being built to address a known and funded need.

            Oh course if you disagree you can just point out the funded programs the SLS is supposed to support for the next couple of decades. And if you’re NOT able to point to any funded need for the SLS, then you’d have to agree that the SLS is so far a big politically supported money pit.

          • Dick Eagleson

            If you think SpaceX is “cool-aid” but SLS is somehow real I don’t think it’s me, Coastal Ron and the rest who have a problem.

            • Serge

              No, no. I wanna more of this cool-aid like SpaceX. Real launches every month or less that is. Preferably I wanna see some hundred newspace companies worldwide. But this SLS crap, russian goverment new space policy of total control and concentration, and ITAR fear mongering makes it american dream only. Just how lucky you are having a thriving and acomplishing commercial innovative industry while most others keep pushing big goverment crap.
              There will be no need for HLV with more capacity than FH (50t class) in 21st century at all. Orbital assembly and nuclear rockets/Solar electric/solar sails make all efforts of chemical space propulsion obsolete. And minuatirisation of all components (electronics, antennas,photonics, microfluidics) realises that the need to put any brain with body in space useless. Just connect “brain only” with telerobotically produced exoskeleton via fast compact computer and thats it. No need for
              Earth environment, swarms of bacteria and grease that you carry.
              Multiplanetary humans – who really needs that ineffective biosystem in different environments totally incompatible with it. Its outdated idea,
              big monkeys flying in space, really what is so important to preserve that form of mind and cell restricted nanomachines? Lets move beyond human, much easier to colonize solar system by posthumans, nonbiological, fast evolving and easy compatible with certain space/planet environment.

          • Reality Bits

            Frankly I would have liked to have seen Boeing/ULA do propellant cross-feed, regen-cooled RS-68As, and LH2 densification on the Delta IV Heavy along with the ACES upper stage with the RL-60.

            It would have brought some key technologies to TRL 7

            Instead we have the monster rocket the doesn’t improve the technology landscape.

            • Dick Eagleson

              Gee, as long we’re wishing for things, I wish I would find Carmen Electra in my bed tonight. I think there’s about as much chance of that happening as getting anything genuinely innovative out of ULA. But, hey, it’s your well and your penny.

        • Coastal Ron

          Marcel F. Williams said:

          Imagine, government workers being allowed to spend over $3 billion of the tax payer’s money with absolutely no requirements to produce anything.

          Using that logic, how come you don’t get upset with the SLS program spending $1.3B/year with nothing to show? No launches, no rockets, just a bunch of drawings a piece parts.

          The fact that you thought that Congress should have gone along with this farce during the middle of a Great Recession– is astonishing!

          OK, so NASA is just a jobs program. Well glad you admitted that, since that’s what Nelson said the SLS was – a jobs program.

          The fact that you think that Obama has any interest in space travel– is the fantasy!

          In looking at the FY11 NASA budget request, it was clear he wasn’t interested in doing BEO while he was in office, but it was also clear he wanted to get NASA positioned to do BEO well after he left office. The SLS and Orion don’t do that, since beyond being too expensive to operate, there is no budget left over to solve the real technology issues holding NASA back from leaving LEO.

          …he advocated cutting NASA’s lunar program in order to fund social programs.

          Don’t be so politically ignorant. Congress can make up whatever excuses it wants to fund whatever it wants, so decreasing spending in one area of the Federal Budget has no effect on any other part. Both could be funded, or both could be cut.

        • Dick Eagleson

          So instead of spending $600 million a year to develop nothing, Congress insisted we spend $2 billion a year on developing SLS – i.e., nothing. I like the first deal better.

  • Chad Overton

    It is absolutley incorrect to try and point the finger at the Obama admin for the SLS. Obama wanted to improve tech through research with the goal of creating a cost effective/sustainable launch vehicle. SLS is nothing more than engineer/aerospace welfare brought to us buy congress. Im not a fan of Obama but lets be honest and realistic here!

    • Vladislaw

      I believe the deal cut was commercial crew in exchange for a make work program for the shuttle workers and contractors. Congress has tried to slow down commercial crew to keep the pork trains running as long as possible. 2016 – 2017 will probably see the end of the SLS/MPCV nightmare.

      Congress will then start demanding reports from NASA as to why we are not doing space based ships like the NAUTILUS X instead of wasting money on monster rockets.

      • Vladislaw: I wish you were correct that we are nearing the end of this battle. Unfortunately, I doubt it. I suspect this GAO Report will be the first shot in renewed fighting. And, as you pointed out earlier, it apparently doesn’t really matter which party has the Presidency. Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama started in similar places for their respective times — keep it small, use existing technology, develop spacecraft instead of launch vehicles — and both ended up with Apollo on Steroids. I see no reason for that to be different this time. The Shuttle workers aren’t going away until their retire, and neither are their advocates in Congress. . . .

        — Donald

        • Vladislaw

          Actually it appears this is more and more an Executive branch versus Congress. Nixon wanted to shut down space as a way of ending the pork. Reagan actually got NASA’s mandate modified, the Space Act of 1958, to include commercial use and got legislation through after the shuttle accident. All presidents since Nixon, in one form or another, as wanted more commercial in our space “program”.

          President Bush got commercial cargo but commercial crew was sidelined.
          President Obama got commercial crew at the cost of SLS.

          We are almost to the tipping point. Commercial cargo, commercial crew access and with Bigelow Aerospace, a commercial destination. The three legs of the stool that has to be in place before the pork premium is stripped out of the NASA budget.

          • Vladislaw: We are almost to the tipping point. Commercial cargo, commercial crew access and with Bigelow Aerospace, a commercial destination.

            I agree with this. However, as I argued in another thread, I expect that, in the best possible future, the commercial crowd will advance in parallel with SLS. If it is killed, SLS will be replaced with some other project to employ Shuttle engineers. Eventually, the commercial crowd will get so far ahead of the traditional crowd that the latter will become irrelevant. Actually, that’s already happened: has anyone thought up a use for SLS that a Delta-IV Heavy or Falcon-9 Heavy couldn’t handle?

            — Donald

            • Vladislaw

              The private sector always hires faster than the government. As the pork premium is stripped from the NASA budget it will mean a loss of jobs. Congress has not been willing to lose those jobs in their districts because their wasn’t immediate openings in the private sector to keep them employed. As commercial interests in space increase ( we have seen a 12% yearly increase in the space economy over the last 3 decades, 3-5 times the growth rate of the economy in general, good times or bad) and generates the extra normal profits capital flows to the extra normal profits creating new jobs and head hunters will be poaching NASA workers with the needed skill sets. We already see it happening.

              Communications, transportation and energy, the big three. Status quo versus it’s replacement. We have seen this exact same senerio played out several times in our 200 plus years in all three areas. We are now entering an era of a new commercial transportation system. Early inovators generate extra normal profits. They historically always have. The senerios always play out the same way.

              As congressional members see space pork’s power weaken as commercial comes on line, they will vote against it and new power clics will develope to move that pork into other areas. Railroads once was king, canals and canal building was once king, the telegraph was once king…. they all got their pork .. .right up until … they didn’t.

            • ” has anyone thought up a use for SLS that a Delta-IV Heavy or Falcon-9 Heavy couldn’t handle?”

              SKYLAB II: Making a Deep Space Habitat from a Space Launch System Propellant Tank

              http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Griffin_3-27-13/Griffin_3-27-13.pdf

              The SLS and the Case for a Reusable Lunar Lander

              http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-sls-and-case-for-reusable-lunar.html

              An SLS Launched Cargo and Crew Lunar Transportation System Utilizing an ETLV Architecture

              http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/01/an-sls-launched-cargo-and-crew-lunar.html

              Utilizing Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) for Early SLS Cargo Launches and Commercial Crew Destinations

              http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/01/utilizing-space-shuttle-main-engines.html

              Utilizing the SLS to Build a Cis-Lunar Highway

              http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/02/utilizing-sls-to-build-cis-lunar-highway.html

              SLS Fuel Tank Derived Artificial Gravity Habitats, Interplanetary Vehicles, & Fuel Depots

              http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/05/sls-fuel-tank-derived-artificial.html

              • Vladislaw

                You really really do not get it do you?

                Why would congress, who only wants to fund dispobable hardware, because it keeps jobs and contracts flowing longer and fund long term cost plus, fixed fee, sole source FAR development contracts want to fund this?

                sheesh .. again wake the hell up.

                These ideas have been floated in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, and into the 2000’s … gosh .. congress has never given the reuse of tanks a second look .. wow .. I wonder why?

                Why has congress never been interested in Reusablity?
                Why has congress never been interested in fuel depots?
                Why has congress never been interested in reusable space based ships?
                Why has congress never been interested in Reuable fuel tanks?
                Why has congress never been interested in ANYTHING that reduces “touch work”

                again wake up.

              • Marcel F. Williams: I don’t see any payloads here that can’t be launched as components and assembled in orbit for a tiny fraction of what it is taking to develop and (maybe) fly the SLS. (Forcing use of SSMEs hardly counts.) Even if you discount Falcon Heavy, Delta Heavy is available now and does not need to be developed. To take the second generation space station or fuel depots as examples, for what we are wasting on SLS in a hand-full of years, you could buy dozens of modules and the Delta-IV Heavies to launch them, even at ~$500 Million a pop. And, you’d actually have space stations and fuel depots, instead of a giant rocket to nowhere.

                — Donald

              • @Donald F. Robertson

                Delta IV heavy cost currently hover around $400 million per launch to deploy approximately 25 tonnes into low Earth orbit. SLS launch cost should hover around $500 to $600 million to deploy over 100 tonnes into orbit. So the SLS will be able to deploy payloads into space a lot cheaper that the Delta IV heavy.

                Marcel

              • Dick Eagleson

                Marcel,

                No, it won’t. To start with, SLS launch costs are never going to be anywhere near $500 – $600 million per launch. Boeing’s contract for the first pair of SLS core stages is for $2.8 billion. That’s $1.4 billion apiece. I’ve seen some comments where it was asserted that core stage costs could come down to roughly $600 million each, but the poster provided no evidence to back that claim up. Even if he was right, that puts the cost of merely the core stage at or above what you seem to imagine an entire mission can be launched for.

                Of course there’s a lot more to an SLS mission than just the core stage. Being so underpowered it can’t lift its own fully fueled weight off the ground, for instance, it needs those 5-segment solids.

                Then there’s the matter of an upper stage. The initial SLS upper stage is just a Centaur with a measly 25,000 lbs. of thrust. The Exploration Upper Stage, which hasn’t even been designed yet, has all of 100,000 lbs. of thrust. With the Centaur, SLS block I is supposed to be able to put 70 metric tons into LEO. With the Exploration Upper Stage this supposedly increases to 93 metric tons. It’s never going to be 100 metric tons because the advanced liquid-fueled boosters and the J-2X-based upper stage required for Block II configurations of SLS have both been cancelled. Block II SLS is, in essence, already dead and buried, killed, not by its critics, but by its alleged friends in Congress. In order for SLS to have a future, it would have been necessary for current pork levels to fall. This, Congress was not willing to allow.

                Then there’s the matter of adding in the cost of the standing army required to support SLS. They have to be paid even though the planned SLS production rate won’t support missions any more often than every other year. SLS will cost billions every time it flies – if it ever flies at all.

                Falcon Heavy will fly next year, capable of putting 53 metric tons into LEO at a whack for $85 million. That’s $730 per pound. If more single mission lift is needed, FH has obvious upgrade paths. One would be a stretched upper stage with an additional Merlin 1-D vacuum engine added. A second alternative, a bit further down the road, would be a high Isp, high-energy upper stage based on the LOX-Methane Raptor engine. Both may well be available in the SpaceX catalog before SLS flies its first mission in 2018.

                SLS is hopeless and unnecessary. Give it up.

              • Dick Eagleson –
                Marcel heard those same facts from me a couple of years ago in regard to SLS (except for your point about the upper stage). You aren’t telling him anything he has not already heard many times before. He selectively tunes out and forgets anything that contradicts his internal world view. I have yet to decide whether he is intentionally dishonest, honestly self-delusional or some combination of both.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “SKYLAB II: Making a Deep Space Habitat from a Space Launch System Propellant Tank”

                This is dumb. We have a space station.

                “The SLS and the Case for a Reusable Lunar Lander”

                This is dumb. We don’t need SLS to develop a reusable lander.

                “An SLS Launched Cargo and Crew Lunar Transportation System”

                “Utilizing Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) for Early SLS Cargo Launches and Commercial Crew”

                These are dumb. We have two cargo providers, and between one and three crew providers coming online. Moreover, the ultra-low SLS launch rate doesn’t support cargo/crew demands or establish a safety record for crew transport.

                “Utilizing the SLS to Build a Cis-Lunar Highway”

                This is dumb. We can’t build a highway to anywhere with only one trip every two to four years.

                “SLS Fuel Tank Derived Artificial Gravity Habitats, Interplanetary Vehicles, & Fuel Depots”

                This is as dumb as similar STS ET concepts. We have no capacity for cleaning, cutting, welding, and sealing propellant tanks on-orbit and probably won’t for decades, if ever.

              • Coastal Ron

                Dick Eagleson said:

                No, it won’t. To start with, SLS launch costs are never going to be anywhere near $500 – $600 million per launch. Boeing’s contract for the first pair of SLS core stages is for $2.8 billion. That’s $1.4 billion apiece.

                I’m glad you pointed that out. Now we can start tracking real life costs for SLS!

              • Dick Eagleson

                Now we can start tracking real life costs for SLS!

                Better lay in a good supply of oxygen bottles at base camp, Ron. It’s gonna get real steep out there.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Rick

                Marcel heard those same facts from me a couple of years ago

                Hey, another booster shot never hurts (pun intended)!

                Seriously, there’s so much shit being shoveled by SLS groupies we’re gonna have to organize ourselves into shifts or something to keep up.

              • DB9 — But, but, but … all those examples Marcel listed mean we need SLS! Any evidence that suggests otherwise can’t possibly be true. We should never seriously consider facts that challenge our core beliefs. Acceptance of that principle would occasionally mean swallowing our pride and admitting we have been wrong and requiring us to go with what we were previously against, regardless of our prior long investment of time and effort in an opposing idea. ;)

                Too bad, because most people would admire someone big enough to take a different tact.

              • Marcel: Delta IV heavy cost currently hover around $400 million per launch to deploy approximately 25 tonnes into low Earth orbit. SLS launch cost should hover around $500 to $600 million to deploy over 100 tonnes into orbit. So the SLS will be able to deploy payloads into space a lot cheaper that the Delta IV heavy.

                Even in the very unlikely event that you are correct, that is not what we’re spending on the SLS. We are spending almost $2 Billion this year. Even if SLS were ready to launch now, add $500 Million to that, and we have $2.5 Billion. Using your figure for the Delta-IV, for what we are spending just this year, we could fly 2.5 / 0.4 = 6.25 Delta-IVs. Assuming the payload equals half the cost, that’s 3 Delta-IVs plus payloads per year for every year the SLS is in development. Assuming we’ll be spending at least this much through the early 2020s, that’s a minimum of 7yrs X 3 = 21 Delta-IVs and payloads.

                That’s a lot of second generation Space Stations, lunar bases, asteroid missions, and PhD missions.

                What you and other SLS supporters are missing is the lost opportunity costs — even with extraordinarily generous assumptions — of spending all this money now on system that won’t be operational for many years, instead of actually exploring space now with the tools we have.

                If neolithic seafarers had insisted on developing a Clipper Ship before they colonized the Pacific islands, Iceland, and Greenland with the vessels they had, humanity would have missed out on at least a thousand years of learning and experience and exploration before Columbus. Even Columbus adopted existing freighters: not a single clipper ship in his fleet.

                A virtual SLS is an excellent tool for keeping engineers employed, and a terrible tool for actually exploring or colonizing the Solar System, not least because it encourages us to think big instead of thinking small.

                — Donald

              • Dick Eagleson

                Nice piece of work there, Donald. Nice piece of work.

    • “It is absolutley incorrect to try and point the finger at the Obama admin for the SLS. Obama wanted to improve tech through research with the goal of creating a cost effective/sustainable launch vehicle. SLS is nothing more than engineer/aerospace welfare brought to us buy congress. Im not a fan of Obama but lets be honest and realistic here!”

      The Obama administration doesn’t want the SLS. And he testily informed NASA workers that he it doesn’t want NASA to return to the Moon (probably the stupidest statement ever uttered about space by a president). And I don’t even think he really wants NASA to go to Mars. Of course, all he really advocated was a Mars flyby– far into the future. Its all a ruse!

      Obama was simply trying to set NASA up for huge budget cuts by Congress by presenting them with a mission to nowhere in the middle of a Great Recession. But both Democrats and Republicans in Congress refused to fall for it and angrily called the administration out on this issue– as they should have!

      Marcel

      • Vladislaw

        Your misinformation is astounding.

        Bolden stated at the onset of being Administrator of what the administration was going to do. As he stated the public ONLY pays attention to NASA when it does “firsts”. The administration was going to use firsts as a way to build interest in NASA so that “NO LATER” than 2015 when Bolden has to present NASA’s way forward to the President there would a renewed interest from the public for NASA.

        Five seperate times President Obama called for additional funding for NASA, in every case it was for firsts. Even the additional funding requested for an additional space shuttle launch was to provide a first. The AMS project, the first look into dark matter/energy from the space station.

        The first closed loop life support
        The first advanced power and propusion
        The first aerobraking
        The first fuel depot
        et cetera
        et cetera
        et cetera

        ALL designed to keep NASA in the headlines created new technology first and putting the new tools needed into the NASA tool box. ALL in preperation for when heavy lift would actually be needed.

        YOu are so freakin short sighed all you can see is your 500 foot phallic symbol rusting away like the last one built in the 60’s. AGAIN .. wake the hell up.

        • @Vladislaw

          Actually, its your lack of political awareness that’s astounding. Congress was not going to give Obama more money to go– nowhere– especially after his appalling anti-Moon speech before NASA personal. But Obama already knew that!

          Marcel

          • “Congress was not going to give Obama more money to go– nowhere–”
            But Congress did give money to go “nowhere”, that’s what SLS is.

            What they didn’t do was give money to go anywhere beyond low Earth orbit, despite the lip-service they give when talking of SLS. ;)

          • Vladislaw

            Ya right .. The President requested 6 billion over 5 years to fully fund mulitple commercial crew entrants. The President requested funding for a replacement engine for the Atlas V. All this would have made what is currently happening with Russia irrelavent. The republicans in the house refused to fund those.

            Now what do the clueless right wingers like Joel Kotkin write?

            “What about space? Remember, we won the space race but now have to depend on Russian launch vehicles to do much of anything in orbit. President Obama thought we could rely on the Russians to provide us with cheap rides into orbit, but Putin squashed that notion after we objected to his actions in Ukraine. John Kennedy must be turning over in his grave.”

            http://www.newgeography.com/content/004433-america-down-but-not-out

            Why they blame President Obama, Doesn’t matter that President Bush ordered the shuttle to be retired, the republicans refuse to fund the solutions, because they are not going to allow any successes for this president and instead blame him for their insane policies.

  • Paul Scutts

    I think that we all can agree on one thing, the sooner that government (agencies) and politicians are out of the space hardware production/utilization loop the better.

  • amightywind

    Has anyone ever estimated a large development program accurately? Especially since Obama’s agency has completely lost technological continuity with shuttle and Apollo. News flash. It will take more time and money to develop SLS. So what? The nation must have it to counter the Russians and Chinese.

    • Vladislaw

      Windasovich wrote: “It will take more time and money to develop SLS.”

      Why?

      Because we are, in effect, back engineering a Model T? 40 year old technology that was developed for the space shuttle in the late 1960’s and 1970’s?

      Of course pork would not have anything to do with costs.

    • Jim Nobles

      amightywind, we are well ahead of Russia and China and pulling away at a faster rate but it’s mainly due to commercial and not soviet style government space.

    • Dick Eagleson

      By the time SLS can fly we will be all but certain to have Mk2 or even Mk3 versions of the Falcon Heavy that can match any Block I configuration of SLS in performance, be reusable, vastly cheaper and able to sustain a launch tempo of several missions per year as opposed to one every two, or even four(!) years. See my 1:03 AM comment above for details.

      • More SpaceX hyperbole. Doesn’t make for a compelling space program.

        • Jim Nobles

          More SpaceX hyperbole. Doesn’t make for a compelling space program.

          They’re building rockets and trying to make them reusable. They’re building spacecraft and trying to make them reusable. They want to build a big rocket and colonize Mars and are actually working on it with real money.

          What the hell do you want from a space program?

          Oh yeah, you want to do Apollo again. Guess what, that’s a dumb idea and we’re not going to do it. Even if it was a good idea we wouldn’t do it because congress won’t pay for it. But the technologies are being developed in the commercial sector, not government space, that actually will allow people to go to the Moon if that’s what they want to happen.

          I don’t think you’re interested in much of anything except complaining…

        • Hiram

          “Doesn’t make for a compelling space program.”

          What makes it a compelling space program is that it’s under control of ONE PERSON. It is not subject to the whims, political maneuvering, and self-contradictory behavior of our Congress. In both cases, it’s an “if you have the money” deal. But in the case of F9H, that’s *all* that is needed. Nothing hyperbolic about that. It’s a fact. The last dysfunctional decade or two of the U.S. Congress has presented convincing evidence that a federally funded space program aimed at slippery and ill-defined goals is probably no longer credible. The Apollo days are gone, in many respects.

          Now, of course, it isn’t “our” space program. It’s really Elon’s. But he’ll share.

          See, it’s not about SLS versus F9H. It’s about the federal government versus SpaceX. It’s about which can be more focused and responsive when it comes to space access.

        • Amightywind: More SpaceX hyperbole. Doesn’t make for a compelling space program.

          Last I saw, after spending in total less than half what the SLS project spends in a single year, they are flying actual payloads to orbit. They also are engaging in substatial and fairly radical innovation. Sounds like a pretty “compelling space program” to me.

          — Donald

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “More SpaceX hyperbole. Doesn’t make for a compelling space program.”

          If “hyperbole” is launching all the way to orbit, I’ll take that over a “compelling” ground-based “space program”.

        • Vladislaw

          Space is a place not a program.

    • Hiram

      “Has anyone ever estimated a large development program accurately? Especially since Obama’s agency has completely lost technological continuity with shuttle and Apollo.”

      Technological continuity with shuttle and Apollo? Thank goodness we’ve lost that! Those were marvelous pieces of hardware, in their day, and we honor them for their history, but their systems are by and large archaic now. Also, surely you’re not pointing to shuttle and Apollo as accurate estimations of large development programs, are you? Shuttle is just about the best counterexample to correctly reading true costs in a large space development program. Apollo was sitting on a deep enough pocket that no one was really looking.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Has anyone ever estimated a large development program accurately?”

      Yes. Apollo came in about 5% of estimate, for example.

      “Especially since Obama’s agency has completely lost technological continuity with shuttle and Apollo.”

      Yeah, MPCV is using 1960’s-era Avcoat and SLS is using 1970’s-era SSMEs and SRBs because NASA “completely lost technological continuity with shuttle [sic] and Apollo.”

      How dumb.

      “The nation must have it to counter the Russians and Chinese.”

      If the Russians and Chinese are bankrupting their civil space activities with decades-outdated, dangerous, mission-less HLVs that can launch only once every half-decade, then more power to them. We should cede leadership in that area ASAP.

      Of course, they’re not that stupid. That level of idiocy is reserved for the U.S. civil human space flight program.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I’m interested; what particular Russian or Chinese threat is SLS intended to counter?

    • ” Especially since Obama’s agency has completely lost technological continuity with shuttle and Apollo.

      As if that were entirely a bad thing. There are cost-related reasons we chose to stop doing both. And those decisions were made slightly and greatly before the Obama Administration.

      “The nation must have it to counter the Russians and Chinese.”

      Counter the Russian and Chinese…what?

      • Dick Eagleson

        Perhaps the “SLS-ski” the Russians have been making noises about building for awhile now. Anatoly Zak has an article on his web site about the “SSME-ski” engine that may be resurrected as part of this effort. As for the Chinese, they’ve publicly announced intentions of building a heavy lifter to be called Long March 9.

        Confusion to the enemy, say I. Now all we have to do is kill our pointless government BFR and we’ll be way ahead of both our principal geopolitical adversaries. We just need to get past all the people like Windy who think it would be tragic if our opponents were to waste billions building monster, unaffordable, throw-away rockets and we were to be caught without one.

  • Hiram

    The frightening thing about this GAO report is that Congress may use it to see to it that SLS gets a budget bump-up, at the cost of some other account. Does anyone understand why Coburn asked for this study in the first place? He may have seen the fiscal handwriting on the wall, and was looking for a formal message from a respected accounting source that would give him and SLS cronies permission to organize that bump-up. Of course, NASA figures prominently in Coburn’s yearly Wastebook that lists (usually fiscally small) projects that he considers wasteful. Significantly, SLS never makes it into that Wastebook, though it probably needs to. Of course, Coburn is legendary for having recommended the cancellation of Constellation *after* the program had already been cancelled by the Administration. He saved the taxpayer a LOT of cash by doing that, no?

    • What Congress needs to do is to cancel the real pork in the budget: the $3 billion a year ISS program so that more money can be spent on beyond LEO efforts.

      Private space companies need to be focused on deploying private space stations, not the ISS.

      Marcel

      • Dick Eagleson

        I gotta hand it to you for being consistent. You consistently call for burying the real (ISS) or ignoring it (Falcon Heavy) in favor of the delusional (SLS). Vaporware forever!

      • Indeed. Is it not crazy that we share a space station with a 19th century style revanchist empire like Putin’s Russia? We may very well be at war with them in the near future. ISS should be ended, today.

        • Hiram

          Yes, Ronald Reagan probably thought that it was crazy to share a space station with Yuri Andropov’s imperialist USSR. But Reagan figured it might present some geopolitical advantages, so he extended the invitation. The Cold War was still very much being fought then. Reagan was able to think more broadly, and the ISS, if nothing else, became symbolic of international diplomacy and cooperation. Yes, of course we could replace that symbol of international diplomacy and cooperation with SLS. That’d teach ‘em.

          • amightywind

            Diplomacy and cooperation? Russia is lobbing shells into Europe, redrawing its boundaries, and shooting down its airliners.

            • Hiram

              Well, back then the USSR was lobbing shells into Afghanistan, and we thought diplomatic outreach with them was in order. Of course, now we’re lobbing shells in Afghanistan, so the Russians might want to do the same diplomatic outreach with us. Of course, back then, we were shooting down airliners as well (Iran Air 655). As to redrawing boundaries, thanks to us, Iraq will soon be doing that to itself.

        • Andrew Swallow

          If it gets a move on NASA can have its own microgravity research spacestation in LEO in 5 years time. This can be done for about a $billion.

          Let Putin take the blame for splashing the ISS in 2020.

          Within 10 years NASA can have gateway spacestations at EML-1/2 and LEO (second).

          By using a SEP tug on continuous burn a spacestation in low lunar orbit can make lunar landings much easier.

  • Malmesbury

    SLS has been given all the money that Congress votes it? So what is happening?

    The problem is legacy systems – in a way. SRBs, SSME, the heat shield, Apollo capsule shapes… All of theses were chosen because they sounded like the “safe” option. The fact that many of them also kelt shuttle jobs going was equally important.

    The problem is that when combined in a new design, the old concepts and systems need massive redesign. The SRBs will be a distant relative of those flow on the Shuttle, for example.

    So you have the risks of new development, tied to the problems involved in integrating old tech into a system it wasn’t designed to work with.

    When you add in a desire to create as many jobs as possible, you get the current comedy.

    Back to my favourite example of this – the Orion heatshield. Overweight, under spec’d, incredible amount of touch labour. All because going to a new material was a “risk” – and might not employ the right people in big enough numbers.

    Another is the tractor LAS system – which was required for Ares I, due to extreme acceleration requirements. No longer required to be so extreme, it is a legacy system that has eaten a chunk of the project.

    This is the project that Congress wanted. It employs the right people in large numbers.

    • No, they were chosen because they meet requirements. SRB’s and SSME’s are state of the art. The Apollo capsule design was chosen because it is simple and meets requirements. Any issues with the heat shield are normal development issues. If not for the leftist saboteurs, Ares I would be flying now.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        No, they were chosen because they meet requirements.

        Yes, and since Congress wrote the requirements, and not technical people at NASA, the requirements they met were entirely political (i.e. PORK).

      • Malmesbury

        Ares I – the rocket that couldn’t deliver Orion to orbit (SM had to do the insertion burn from a suborbital trajectory)? That vibrated so much that reading instruments was impossible – and if resonance set in, would vibrate beyond survivable limits for humans. That if it failed in flight was nearly impossible to escape from – even with an 18G escape system….

        The SRBs have had just about everything changed in them to make them work with SLS. But that is what ATK wanted – a development contract…..

        The heat shield is overweight, and only just about capable of lunar return. It can’t do Mars return. PICA met the requirements but they were on a charge backwards to the past.

        The Apollo mold lines were chosen against the advice of engineers who pointed out that simply scaling things up doesn’t generally work. Massive weight growth later (from the structural problems that decision caused)…. A capsule that is too heavy for its parachutes. Unless you leave out the people, the life support system……

        All these points were made well before the designs were frozen. But that was the point – lots of development work for the right people.

        • amightywind

          That vibrated so much that reading instruments was impossible – and if resonance set in, would vibrate beyond survivable limits for humans.

          Yes, and we were told that Ares I would collide with the launch tower. An SRB on the first stage was a novel idea. Nothing wrong with taking the fast elevator…

          • Vladislaw

            It didn’t collide but it did cause millions in damage to the launch tower because it had to launch at such an angle the exhaust melted everything.

          • Malmesbury

            NASA scientists were reduced to trying to design a display which “vibrated” it’s information to match the vibration of the rocket. Unfortunately they couldn’t test this properly because the vibration amplitude expected exceeded the levels allowed for tests involving humans….

            Using an SRB doomed the project since thrust was fixed – when Orion began to gain weight, they ran out of margin very early on.

        • Dick Eagleson

          The Apollo mold lines were chosen against the advice of engineers who pointed out that simply scaling things up doesn’t generally work.

          Gotta wonder about why nobody in charge of that Orion thing seemed to be familiar with the Cube-Square Law.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “No, they were chosen because they meet requirements.”

        To maximize use of the Shuttle workforce and contracts, per the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

        “SRB’s and SSME’s are state of the art.”

        For 1975. Not for 2015.

        “The Apollo capsule design was chosen because it is simple and meets requirements. Any issues with the heat shield are normal development issues.”

        The Apollo heat shield was never designed to protect a surface with a 65% larger area. This is fundamentally why the shield is cracking and MPCV is ~25% overweight for its parachutes.

        “If not for the leftist saboteurs, Ares I would be flying now.”

        Not until 2017-19 per Augustine, and then only if the budget hawks on the right added several billions to NASA’s topline every year.

        “Yes, and we were told that Ares I would collide with the launch tower.”

        We were told that Ares I-X would damage 39B, and it did.

        “An SRB on the first stage was a novel idea.”

        As long as you want the opposite of safe, simple, and soon.

  • Von Del

    People are money! Congress wants people employed. NASA gets a pretty consistent amount of money-they’ve gotten it for a long time-45 years. So they should be maintaining pretty consistent employment levels. NASA’s job ought to be getting the most out of a given level of manpower and dollars. I do not see that happening. NASA seems to waste manpower, people’s careers, and dollars. They do not appear to even have a plan in mind.

  • Ben Joshua

    SLS may turn out to be the US version of the Energia launch vehicle. It may get a debut flight, perhaps a second, and if the senator from Florida is still in a position to insist, a third. But a fourth? I doubt so.

    Those concerned about falling behind the Soviets, er… Russians, would do well to work the lessons of Energia into their long term thinking about launch capability and costs.

    Our launch vehicle strategy should incorporate the Energia lessons lo these many years later. In this regard we are, in fact, quite a number of years behind Russian thinking.

    Outside of a few tactically placed reps. and sens., the country does not want to offer a mammoth blank check for a mammothly expensive, old fashioned and risky launcher.

    Innovative alternatives from several companies are gradually finding a place in the public imagination. By 2017 (or 18, or 19?) we may conclude, as a country, that there are better ways in the 21st century to do spaceflight.

    • Vladislaw

      Boeing is only contracted to build two cores, if they do ever launch one, they will have to save the last one for a NASA space center somewhere as a display article.

    • Ben Joshua said: “SLS may turn out to be the US version of the Energia launch vehicle.”

      This observation I have made! First off, I am totally in favor of a heavy lift rocket. But the way NASA is currently going about it, is completely wrong. SLS is but a sliver of what the originally proposed Ares 5 rocket was to be. It isn’t being designed with Lunar spacecraft in mind at all; just that moronic Asteroid Retrieval Mission. It serves NO purpose, beyond visiting a bagged meteor sample, (parked in cislunar space); and even that silly idea might not come to pass. SLS does NOT look like a powerful enough rocket to accommodate new manned lunar vehicles. The Saturn 5 was built concurrently with the specific lunar craft that were planned to carry out the overall Apollo mission. SLS, by contrast, appears to have NOTHING in mind for the Moon, at all. (Other than its gravity well, as a rendezvous point.)

      What will they do with the SLS, once the meteor sample has been rendezvoused with? Could some tiny lunar lander possibly be fitted atop of it, with an accompanying earth departure stage, and maybe sent to low lunar orbit, unmanned, to await the arrival of a crewed lunar orbital craft; as in the Golden Spike concept? (Both such spacecraft would need to be capable of decelerating themselves into lunar orbit, individually.) Would the Orion or whichever other manned lunar orbiter, require the same exact heavy lift launcher to begin its lunar trek, implying a double launch of SLS within a short span of time, or would a smaller launcher be utilized? Further, if the lunar landers to be used are no bigger than the old Apollo ones, wouldn’t this put constrained limits upon what size of cargo-only lunar lander, that we’d eventually develop, based on the manned sortie mission version? (Which would primarily be that same vehicle, minus the ascent rocket-stage requirement; hence a lander which goes down one-way, with no one on board.)

      In short, I see a lot of difficulty & narrowed possibilities for future manned Moon applications, if the SLS turns out to be NASA’s only near-term expression of the heavy lift concept. I’m concerned that it may not be powerful enough, nor thought-out thru enough, to handle a manned Lunar agenda; and that it might indeed be decommissioned, just like the Russian Energia rocket, following even a successful asteroid-rock-retrieval, since its potential for upgrading for future deep space uses will be too limited.

  • Von Del: People are money! Congress wants people employed.

    The best ways to achieve this in space, especially over the long term, is to support companies like Orbital, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, and, yes, Space X, who collectively are investing private money in better vehicles; and to do what we can to make US satellites more competitive (e.g., by re-authorizing Ex-Im and fighting European government subsidies to match US inventions like smaller, more efficient comsats (Orbital) and all-electric satellites (Boeing)). The commercial space industry has expanded dramatically, and continues to expand, whilst NASA employment will, at best, remain static. If we take commercial launches back into the US and win more commercial satellite contracts, that will do far more for US employment than wasting money on an SLS that will do nothing for American competitiveness except suck money that could better be deployed on the above.

    Unfortunately, those jobs might not be located in cultural and technical backwaters like Huntsville where young people do not want to live. So, the rest of the country will continue to pay for vast Socialist public works projects supported by politicians who attack a President who is trying to privatise parts of the space program while spouting free market rhetoric out of the other sides of their mouths. . . .

    — Donald

    • Paul Scutts

      The problem, as I see it, is that NASA is not allowed/encouraged to do the “hard” things necessary for sustainable HSF. Things like, experimentation and development of (partial) centrifugal force to simulate gravity, passive and active radiation shielding, magnetic re-entry heat shielding, scrubbing/sterilization of long duration LSS atmosphere e.g. control of mold, etc. etc. Development of these technologies would not only employ people but also, if patented and licensed, could maybe return a profit on investment to the US Taxpayer. But I guess that kind of thinking is just too long term for (most) politicians.

      • Malmesbury

        Even the “simpler” hard things are not done – PICA was invented for next generation NASA vehicles. But it was too…. new to use. Now they are stuck with the man with a calking gun and sagans of honeycomb holes to fill with AVOCOAT…

        For Mars, supersonic retro propulsion would have incredible benefits. But that was ruled “too hard”. Despite wind tunnel studies saying that it wasn’t that big an issue.

        Ironic that a certain company has proved both of those in flight for NASA.

  • Paul Scutts: Things like, experimentation and development of (partial) centrifugal force to simulate gravity. . . et al.

    That’s exactly what Lori Garver and Obama tried to do, and we can all see where that went.

  • Littrow

    For now the US has no human spaceflight program. There is little memory of where we’ve been or how we got there. Within NASA there is demonstrably little if any knowledge of how to build whatever ought to come next, but more significantly there is not a coherent plan for the direction in which to proceed.

    Fortunately there are people like Musk who have the where with all to make their own futures. We will just have to follow along with them. I fault the current crop of NASA Administration together with a naive and idiotic President and a Congress that is lousy. Plenty of blame to go around but they are right in front of us.

    • Vladislaw

      There are plenty of talented people at NASA, most are low rungs on the ladder as the grey beards have moved to the political arens for job retention and try to get a name on a legacy project.

    • Coastal Ron

      Littrow said:

      For now the US has no human spaceflight program.

      U.S. astronauts on the ISS would disagree.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        With respect, allowing your organisation to be towed along by the current of inertia (maintaining extant programs) is not the same as having a strategy going forwards.

  • Egad

    I’ve bee reviewing what’s been said on this topic and found a particularly interesting thread at

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2011/04/14/the-source-of-the-130-ton-sls-provision/

    Worth a quick perusal.

    (In it, Coastal Ron presciently predicted “Next will be SLS when the GAO comes back with a report stating the obvious – not enough funding, no clear business case, and way behind schedule.”)

    • Coastal Ron

      WOW! Good digging.

      Not that this is the first GAO report to state that the SLS program has no clear business case and is behind schedule, but each report keeps showing the program slipping further and further, both from a schedule standpoint as well as a budget one.

      The evidence is piling higher and higher that the SLS is a fiscal mess (not unlike the Constellation program was when cancelled), and now 3 years later there still is NO known or funded payload or mission for the SLS once it becomes operational.

      There exists plenty of evidence the SLS should be cancelled, all we need is for someone in Congress to start asking questions about it…

  • Hiram

    Left unsaid in this discussion is the second half of the GAO findings. The first half is that SLS is fiscally pinched. But the second, mentioned only briefly here, is that “The SLS program has not yet defined specific mission requirements beyond the second flight test in 2021 or defined specific plans for achieving long-term goals, but the program has opportunities to promote affordability moving forward.”

    That is, it has no recognizable business case. That’s especially troubling, because, unlike the first, the easy fix isn’t to throw more money at it. (Although the agency begs off and says that it can’t afford multiple development efforts, which such long-range plans might imply.) The GAO is carefully not saying that there can’t be a business plan, but just that, right now, there is none. To me, that’s a bigger red flag than a few hundred million dollar deficit over several years.

    The GAO does note that long-term affordability is bound up in this, in that if you don’t know what you want to do with SLS, or how many you’ll need to do it, it’s impossible to estimate life-cycle costs.

    • Egad

      The GAO is carefully not saying that there can’t be a business plan, but just that, right now, there is none. To me, that’s a bigger red flag than a few hundred million dollar deficit over several years.

      Oh, yes, that’s what all of us nattering nabobs have been pointing out since SLS first appeared:

      What’s this thing **for**? If it’s going to launch 130 tons into orbit, 130 tons of **what**? And how are you going to pay for whatever it is, whatever it’s for?

      With due respect to Coastal Ron’s spot-on prescience, these questions and problems have been obvious from Day One. The “180-day study” that John Shannon led seemed to be trying to find answers, but it failed totally and NASA seems to have then gone into complete Avoidance and Denial mode.

      • Hiram

        “What’s this thing **for**? If it’s going to launch 130 tons into orbit, 130 tons of **what**?”

        Of course, the way NASA answers that question is by pointing to any of a number of Mars DRMs (which were really Constellation-era, and so were written with Ares V in mind) which say that we need heavy lift. But that’s about it. As the GAO almost points out explicitly, you can’t design a system if you really don’t know what it’s for. The GAO is saying that they trust that NASA knows what it’s for, but it sure isn’t obvious to them. NASA has a slew of “concepts” that would use SLS, but the way they would use SLS (e.g. upper stage requirements) is different for most of them.

        Curiously, in the agency response to this point, we are told that gee, the evolvable Mars concept, which is an effort that is being worked right now, as a roadmap to Mars through LEO and cis-lunar space, “does not readily lend itself to life cycle cost definitions.” Yep, that’s avoidance and denial mode. If we can’t answer the question, then the question is ill-formed and irrelevant.

        My point is not that us nattering nabobs have concluded that SLS has no defined rationale, but that the GAO has decided the same thing. SLS has dreams, but no real rationale.

  • Egad

    The evidence is piling higher and higher that the SLS is a fiscal mess (not unlike the Constellation program was when cancelled)

    I hope that someone inclined to write space history books is filling their terabyte hard drives with all that evidence and will, in the fullness of time, produce one or more tomes about the VSE/ESAS/Constellation/SLS/et_depressing_cetera sequence of events.

    I will also opine that the articles and comments on serious (such as this and NASA Watch) and semi-serious (such as a couple of others which decorum prevents me from naming) Web sites will provide some useful material for those histories.

  • Just found this new NASA document dated July 2014 which states EM-1 is now scheduled for 2018. Look at Page 2:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/ESD_FactSheet_NF-2014-07-583-HQ_TAGGED.pdf

    So it’s official, more or less.

    • Hiram

      I can’t remember where I hear this, but just in the last couple of weeks Gerst was asked on a webcast about schedule, and he said that EM-1 will be “2017, or something like that”. Huh?? That caught my attention. Yes, he probably knew that it wasn’t going to be 2017.

    • Vladislaw

      Thanks for the link, didn’t Lori Garver say this when she was no longer with NASA? that the schedule would move to the right by 1 or 2 years.

  • Jim M

    Orion is and has always been a poorly defined program that is being poorly planned and implemented. Requirements were never validated, designs never verified. Many wonder whether a real Orion will ever reach space. I wonder Why?; since there is not a mission defined for it. Orion can do a lunar mission but none are planned. Orion cannot do a Mars mission, but that is so far away you really have to wonder why we are spending billions of $$$ on it.

    • Vladislaw

      Because the Colorado delagates wamt that funding spent there.

    • Hiram

      “Orion is and has always been a poorly defined program that is being poorly planned and implemented.”

      I think what we’re seeing in Orion and SLS is just about all we can currently expect of a federally funded reach for greatness. It is, as the GAO points out for SLS, and you point out here for Orion, bereft of a real business plan. They don’t know what they really want to do, and they exist merely as symbols of doing great things. Unfortunately, I think that this is about all we can expect from a federally directed human spaceflight program these days, that is subject to the whims and delusions and fractionated planning of a Congress that is, lately, congenitally unconstructive and, for what it’s worth, an Administration that doesn’t really care much either. The answer to human spaceflight is the private sector taking responsibility for the program. At least now we can envision that. Forty years ago we could not. The private sector can set goals and stick to them. They don’t owe anything to any democratic majority of constituents. Their performance has to have real value.

  • Littrow

    Hiram, you are probably right though NACA and NASA had always previously defined a technical basis and rationale for their programs and vehicles. That was true at least through ISS and X-38.

    I really think the current situation is the result of poor, nearly non existent NASA leadership. Presidents and Congressman have always had competing interests and have always needed convincing to support programs. We have a planetary and science program that appears to move according to the wishes of NASAleadership. We have an aero program that though the dollars are tight, gets what NASA prioritizes. Only in human spaceflight are we building things that appear to have no reason. Even ISS, though built according to a NASA prescription, in recent years has suffered as a result of NASA managers who could not focus on ISS purpose 3 or 4 years out because they were solely focused on near term assembly ops. With tens of thousands of people, many of whom have been highly qualified, its amazing to me they cannot figure out what needs to be done.

  • Sorry I’m late to the dance, but here’s my column on last week’s GAO report and subsequent events, including an NAC committee member calling SLS a “fraud.”

    “They Told You So”

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