Congress, NASA

SLS manager says program still on track

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket remains on track for a first launch in December 2017 despite warnings in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) about cost and schedule problems, the program’s manager said Friday.

Speaking at the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention in Houston, SLS program manager Todd May said the program was at or ahead of schedule as it works through a series of critical design reviews (CDRs) for the SLS and its major systems. “We said four years ago we’d be at critical design review on the core [stage] this November. I’m glad to report that we actually completed that last month,” he said, a statement that generated an impromptu round of applause from the couple hundred attendees of the session. The CDR on the booster stages was completed just this week, he said, and the CDR for the full SLS is on track for the spring of 2015.

“Things are going pretty well. As far as the critical path, we’ve still got three to five months of slack” on the date the core stage is due to be delivered to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for testing, he said. “We’re just clicking off milestones.”

That rosy assessment stands in contrast to a report issued last month by the GAO that warned of cost and schedule risks to the program. “The SLS program office calculated the risk associated with insufficient funding through 2017 as having a 90 percent likelihood of occurrence,” the report stated, “furthermore, 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.”

Asked about the GAO report, May suggested that conclusion was based on information that was now out of date. “They saw some things a couple of years ago. Some of the data is now obsolete,” he said. Specifically, he said the funding SLS received in fiscal year 2014, and what it expects to get in 2015 when the appropriations process is completed, is above the original request. In 2014, the administration requested $1.385 billion for SLS, but received $1.6 billion. In 2015, the administration requested $1.38 billion, but House and Senate version of appropriations bills offer $1.6 and 1.7 billion, respectively, for SLS.

That additional funding, May said, has mitigated the risk identified in the GAO report, provided that level of support continues. “If you don’t receive the appropriated levels, you could see challenges,” he said.

As for schedule risks, May said Monte Carlo risk models widely used in such analyses aren’t always accurate. “To me, they don’t change a basic program management tenet, which is to hurry every chance you get,” he said. That approach, he said, has worked for planetary exploration missions that have to launch within narrow windows. “They don’t pay attention to those things. They hurry every chance they get. So far, that’s paying off for us.”

105 comments to SLS manager says program still on track

  • Coastal Ron

    And yet NASA is months behind in releasing the critical Key Decision Point C report. Back in March when NASA’s budget request was released NASA said it couldn’t go into details about how the SLS budget was going to be spent until it released the KDP-C report. That was covered here on Space Politics. What was said at the time was:

    The budget doesn’t go into details about how the SLS funding would be spent, as the program is pending a milestone known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C). “Once the SLS Key Decision Point (KDP)-C is completed (expected in April 2014), NASA will provide this [budget] data in a revision to the Congressional Justification,” the document states.

    I for one have never doubted that our aerospace industry could build an HLV, so stating that the SLS is “on track” from a physical standpoint is rather meaningless. The main issue with the SLS (besides any evidence that an HLV is needed at this point) has always been COST, and the lateness of the KDP-C report indicates that NASA is having a hard time with that aspect.

    Pointing out that the SLS is on track for being built is kind of like the captain of the Titanic pointing out how fast they were going after leaving Southampton…

  • DocM

    Meanwhile Raptor is progressing, and given recent news from them would anyone be surprised if it has at least some 3D printed parts? PWR recently posted a PDF detailing their work on titanium alloy printed impeller, so…

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket remains on track for a first launch in December 2017… the program’s manager said Friday.”

    May is a nice guy, but his statement is pure bullcrap. It ignores the actual, internal schedule for EM-1, which is currently driven by MPCV problems. Per

    “While the first SLS/Orion mission, known as EM-1, is still officially manifested for December 15, 2017 – internally that date has all-but been ruled out. Internal schedules shows EM-1 launch date as September 30, 2018…”

    “The first mission, known as EM-1, is still officially manifested for December 15, 2017. However, internally that date has all-but been ruled out.

    While some elements have several months of contingency available, the overall picture continues to be evaluated, such as with the Orion Program, which is ruling out a 2017 debut, due to – as described in memo information via L2 – an extensive re-design effort to lighten the Command Module structure, that needs to be lighter to reduce re-entry speeds.

    … That schedule shows EM-1 launch date as September 30, 2018.”

    Note that the actual, internal schedule for EM-1 has slipped two months in just the past three weeks…

  • josh

    So May is lying, nice guy or not. I think sls will end up like ares 1.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “So May is lying, nice guy or not.”

      In narrow terms, May is not lying, at least not about SLS. It does have a little schedule slack, although, as the GAO details, there are many threats to that schedule.

      But SLS will not launch EM-1 without MPCV. And it’s already been decided internally to slip EM-1 by a year or so to accommodate MPCV issues. To imply that everything is hunky-dory on EM-1 just because SLS has a little schedule slack is a lie of omission by May. Even if he can’t officially announce the schedule slip yet, he should mention that MPCV has issues that threaten EM-1’s launch date, even if SLS is on track for now.

      “I think sls will end up like ares 1.”

      Maybe not as technically challenged, but one test-flight and done is probably the best that can be hoped if the next White House is paying attention and cares.

      • Vladislaw

        I agree with the one flight test. Boeing is contracted to do two cores. If they did launch twice and cancel their wouldn’t be a core left to decorate a NASA center. So launch one and the second core will be a paper weight somewhere at a NASA center.

        • Dick Eagleson

          I think it would be most appropriate for an unflown SLS core stage to be erected as a sort of headstone out front of the HQ building at MSFC – right before they close the whole place down.

      • Mark R. Whittington

        Those of you who are hoping that Washington will wake up, see things your way, and cancel the SLS need to rethink things. Unless the powers that be decide that the United States is not going to do space exploration, the SLS will be built and will be used. We went through this whole exercise before with the project that eventually became the ISS. The next president is going to find ways to make it work,

        • Jim Nobles

          SLS is unlikely to ever amount to anything. The way things are going there will be much more affordable and sensible alternatives available before SLS ever comes anywhere near operational. I believe SLS will be obsolete by the time it is scheduled for its first operation flight. Which is too many years down the road from now to take seriously.

          • Dick Eagleson

            there will be much more affordable and sensible alternatives available before SLS ever comes anywhere near operational

            Sure will. Falcon Heavy will have been in service at least three years by the time that Sept. 2018 date rolls around. By 2018 FH may well have a more muscular upper stage available that puts its LEO, GTO, LTO and MTO lift capacities above those of at least the first version of SLS BLock 1 with the comically underpowered Centaur upper stage.

            More to the point, that Sept. 2018 date is a best-case scenario right now. That’s over four years away. It’s also 20 months into the administration of whomever succeeds Obama as President. With FH already an established, economical heavy lift reality long before President 45 takes office – and with 2nd-generation enhanced performance either already established or well along toward realization, what President, of either party, is going to back a bloated and pointless waste of space like SLS?

            What NASA program with a projected completion date four or more years away – and lacking any “drop dead” date imposed by planetary orbital mechanics – has ever come in on time? SLS/Orion will slip well beyond that Sept. 2018 date by the time President 45 is inaugurated in Jan. 2017. The accumulated schedule slippage by that time will place SLS’s ever-receding projected first test flight well into the second half of President 45’s term. With Mk1 FH long since available off the shelf, the Raptor engine developed, Mk2 FH likely well along in development or perhaps even built and tested by the time “45” takes office – not to mention whatever SpaceX may have accomplished by that time anent a Raptor-powered BFR – why would he or she not cancel this now-pointless fiscal atrocity early in his or her administration?

            Face facts, SLS fans. SpaceX is moving at several times NASA’s speed. By the time President 45 takes the oath of office, advancing facts on the ground will have overtaken SLS and nailed it securely into its coffin. Put simply, it’s never going to fly.

            • Ben Russell-Gough

              Don’t assume the existence of a higher-powered Falcon Heavy upper stage. That isn’t the path that SpaceX are on, as far as I can tell. Barring a rich new customer, Falcon Heavy is solely for launching deep space probes and large GEO satellites. There’s no indication of a BEO crew ambitions beyond the distant Raptor-powered MCT.

              • Dick Eagleson

                I don’t necessarily assume a rich new customer – though that would be nice – I assume a rich old customer, which Bigelow Aerospace will be by the time 2018 rolls around. The first generation FH will not just be for “launching deep space probes and large GEO satellites.” It will have plenty of uses for LEO missions as well. Putting up hardware for Bigelow’s BA330-based stations will be one such use. But Bigelow is going to need something more muscular than Mk1 FH to put up BA2100’s. An FH with a more powerful upper stage – likely Raptor-powered – would be ideal for the job. Once such a thing exists, SpaceX will find other clients for it. Elon wants to go to Mars, but SpaceX will be happy to do business with anyone who has money and wants to do other things BEO. That will eventually include non-Mars uses for MCT or whatever else the Raptor-based BFR family of vehicles winds up being called.

              • Ben Russell-Gough


                I wonder if you can see the huge assumption you have put as the lynch-pin of your post? That Bigelow is ever able to launch a habitat or find customers to fly on it. That isn’t a given and assuming it is a given is a commercial risk of the sort I wouldn’t make Musk to make.

                Don’t get me wrong, I’d be nice but it is far from certain yet.

                I consider the BA2100 to be vapourwear unless NASA places an order and soon.

              • Vladislaw

                I have a feeling ( ya I know .. a “feeling” lol ) that the Falcon Heavy will be finding work of a different sort from Bigelow Aerospace. Rather than launching the Olympus modules (BA 2100) it will be launching tugs and BA 330’s with a thicker water jacket making the water jacked 330’s the standard since there wasn’t a Falcon Heavy in the picture. The extra water jackets will help extend LEO occupation times and I believe will become the new standard.

                “These tugs could be used to push the various Bigelow Habitats – and other payloads – to specific destinations in LEO, L2, Cislunar space and beyond.

                The four tugs are designed to be grouped together in various combinations, depending on the mission requirements. Notably, they are sized for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

                The tugs could be launched independently, prior to rendezvous with other elements in LEO to form a complete transport system. Each of these tugs share propulsion, docking and avionic systems”


                “The BA 330-DS would be very similar to its LEO version. The main difference would be related to radiation shielding.

                “Although the BA 330-DS has the same physical dimensions as the BA 330, the BA 330-DS is outfitted with a full complement of water tiles that surround the interior. (The BA 330 (only) provides water tiles for sleeping quarters.) This produces most of the delta-v in weight (between the two modules),” the Gate 2 report notes.

                “The balance of additional mass includes priority attention to radiation hardening of avionics and the weight of additional medical facilities, hardware and spare parts.”

                The BA 330-DS would be launched by either a Falcon Heavy”


              • Vladislaw

                “That Bigelow is ever able to launch a habitat or find customers to fly on it.”

                I just do not see it. Any 2nd or 3rd tier country can now get a FULL UP space program based in LEO for 200 million a year. There is a boat load of countries with a checkbook that big and no going through NASA. You can have your own astronauts beaming down to your schools for a relative low price.

              • Dick Eagleson

                That Bigelow is ever able to launch a habitat or find customers to fly on it.

                The launch part is no problem. Bigelow announced a month or two back that he was aiming to have his first twin-BA330-based LEO station up in 2017. The only launcher with both a low price and the necessary lift capacity is the Falcon Heavy, which should have been operational for two years by 2017.

                As for customers for the station, Bigelow says he has letters of understanding from at least six countries. Vlad is correct that there is a considerable market for turn-key national space programs. It’s not clear how big a slice of a station each of Bigelow’s customers would want. It’s quite possible he’d have to put a second or third station up to meet already established demand.

                Each station holds a dozen crew. If Bigelow is rotating three dozen people to and from orbit four to six times a year, as he says he intends, then SpaceX and any other commercial crew carriers are going to be hard-pressed to keep up even with increased vehicle production and reusability. This could be the big human spaceflight problem of 2020, not the possible end of ISS. Nice problem to have, I’d say.

                Vladislaw is right about the tugs too. FH will be hauling a lot of infrastructure stuff besides Bigelow habs upstairs. There will be LEO interorbital tugs, LEO-to-LLO-and-back tugs, LEO propellant depots, LLO propellant depots, lunar landers, lunar habs – all kinds of stuff.

                It wouldn’t, I think, make a lot of sense to put water-shielded hab nodules up with the water already in place. Boosting the habs and water separately and filling the hab shielding elements from bulk tankage on orbit makes more sense. That’s especially so for something the size of a BA2100 which, as noted, is going to require something beyond Mk1 FH to get into LEO even if launched dry.

                I consider the BA2100 to be vapourwear unless NASA places an order and soon.

                You need to get over this retrograde idea that noting space-related is real until NASA sprinkles holy water on it. The BA2100 is less vaporware-ish than SLS or Orion. NASA is unlikely to be the first customer for it in any event. Ten years from now, in fact, NASA is likely to be, at best, a mid-level player in space. They have a limited budget and a culture of doing everything super-expensively – witness SLS, Orion, JWST, etc. In combination, this means NASA will be able to do less and less. Only by abandoning tradition and adopting the COTS model for everything they do will NASA ever break out of its death spiral. I don’t see Congress going along with this. As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, insufficient opportunities for graft.

              • Ben Russell-Gough

                Letters of understanding =/= actual crews who will fly. I’m sure there are lots of third-party space programs who would be interested in flying to a Bigelow station. However, I’m also sure that they would only want to do so if someone else pays for it. If there was the level of interest in this capability that you clearly think, Bigelow would probably be a lot further along and there would probably be also some non-US government funding coming into CST-100 and Dragon 2.0.

                Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great thought and it was a hope I held for a long time. However, everything I’ve seen suggests that everyone wants someone else to cover the costs and take the risks. That is what is going to hold back something like this: Bigelow needs an anchor tenant.

                What is my solution? Maybe as far back as 2010, I would have set up a brokerage organisation, shades of Space Adventures LLC, whose job would be to whip up just this interest and turn it into firm orders.

                SpaceX have now got lots of customers lined up for their satellite launch business. This organisation (I always thought that the name ‘Discovery Consortium’ would have been cool) would have been there to ensure that the Bigelow stations, DragonLab and maybe even a free-flying lab version of Cygnus had a similar back-log of flights and customers.

              • Vladislaw

                In a couple of different interviews Robert Bigelow said there were seven signed MOU’s. Originally Bigelow Aerospace was only going to offer two sizes to lease. 1/2 or a whole BA330. The most frequent question from the potential leasing countries was can they lease a smaller space. Bigelow added the 1/3 of BA330 for 25 million for two months and that’s when the MOU’s really got going.

                Mr. Bigelow also hinted that there where like a dozen waiting in the wings to see the start up, so close to 20 countries.

                As far as launching a BA330 with the full water jacket, it would take the FH with the cross feed. At 145 million ( including integration) it’s ‘One an Done’ .. no need for incuring costs for a tanker development .. time will tell though .. exciting times..

              • Dick Eagleson


                Bob Bigelow hasn’t been holding back because he has no customers, he’s been holding back because there was no crew transport service available. Bigelow wanted two competitive entrants into this market as a precondition to putting up his first station.

                He’s now changed his mind. I think Bigelow has watched Boeing’s mingy and desultory progress on CST-100 with some annoyance. Now, the future of the Atlas V is seriously in question owing to the problematical nature of future RD-180 supplies. Bob was planning to use a lot of Atlas V’s and CST-100’s.

                He tied up with Boeing and ULA in the first place because they were the established, sober, conservative players and SpaceX was a bunch of unproven space cowboys – or so it must have appeared at the time. These days, SpaceX has compiled an impressive track record and the legacy aerospace players are the hot mess.

                I think it was the Dragon V2 unveiling that finally broke the logjam. Bigelow was a VIP invitee. I suspect he and Elon had a nice long talk once the canapes were cleared away and the media had departed. It was shortly thereafter that Bigelow announced his firm’s intent to have its first station up in 2017.

                I suspect this is based on a handshake agreement – or perhaps even something more formal, if yet-to-be publicized – with Elon that SpaceX could launch his habs and other station components on FH and have adequate F9 and Dragon V2 production and launch capacity to support frequent crew rotations by 2017.

                Bigelow, I believe, judged SpaceX to now be a sufficiently safe bet that he was even willing to overlook the lack of a completely freestanding competitor at this point. He’s probably wishing SNC sees Dream Chaser through to operational status, but realizes the iffy future of the Atlas V has also complicated Dream Chaser’s future and that a switch to the F9 as a booster would still not represent a truly independent second source for crew transport.

                In short, I think Bigelow has come to the Rumsfeldian conclusion that he needs to go to space with the aerospace world he’s got, as he’s not likely to get the aerospace world he really wants right away.

                there would probably be also some non-US government funding coming into CST-100 and Dragon 2.0.

                You seem to misunderstand the nature of the Commercial Crew Development program. As with the COTS program that produced two freestanding Cargo Resupply Services competitors, CCDev requires participants to put significant privately-raised funds into the game in addition to NASA money. SpaceX has certainly been doing so as has SNC. Boeing appears to have contributed relatively little company funding to the CST-100 project, relying on its political connections to get it the largest of the CCDev awards anyway.

                But there is certainly non-NASA money going into Commercial Crew, even the CST-100. In the case of SpaceX and SNC it’s likely over 50% of the total as was the case with SpaceX and Orbital during COTS. The final numbers probably won’t be available until the NASA IG and/or the GAO file reports once the program reaches operational status and contracts for services are in place.

                Skepticism is natural, but I think your view of these matters is far gloomier than is justified by the facts as I see them.

              • Jim Nobles

                I consider the BA2100 to be vapourwear unless NASA places an order and soon.

                The BA2100 is an impressive looking piece of equipment based on the Bigelow Aerospace technology but I haven’t heard any talk about someone possibly ordering one. I can’t see NASA ordering one anytime soon since it would have to be part of a project that demands a pressurized hab of that size and I don’t see Congress paying for anything of that magnitude.

                But I don’t know if “vapourwear” is really an accurate label since it’s basically a proposal and not, as far as I know, a product the company is claiming they are going to produce. It looks like something the company is saying they can produce if someone needs one.

        • James

          ISS was made to work because we feared Russian scientists and engineers post Cold War would take their talents to hostile nations. Hence a partnership on ISS

          There is no such fear now of SLS not being completed. Except the fear in the bones of the politicians who,would have lots of unemployed engineers and the like in their districts throwing them out of office

        • Coastal Ron

          Mark R. Whittington said:

          Unless the powers that be decide that the United States is not going to do space exploration, the SLS will be built and will be used.

          We can’t AFFORD to do space exploration with the SLS, that’s the whole issue Mark. If the SLS appeared on a launch pad today all certified and ready to launch, there would be nothing to launch on it because 1) There is no agreed upon destination or mission beyond LEO, and 2) There is no hardware that is ready to launch beyond LEO. And having an HLV does nothing to solve either one of those problems, and exacerbates the second one.

          We went through this whole exercise before with the project that eventually became the ISS. The next president is going to find ways to make it work

          And the ISS only got funded because we had lots of international partners to pitch in money, including Russia. However none of them are going to commit to an exploration hardware architecture (i.e. the SLS) that relies on the whims of our U.S. Congress for funding and has no backup.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “Those of you who are hoping that Washington will wake up, see things your way”

          The vast majority of Washington isn’t even aware of SLS, and wouldn’t care if they were made aware. The next White House, however, will be handed a giant goose egg like this one was with Constellation, and will have to terminate the program if they want to try to do anything of substance with NASA during their 4-8 years in office.

          “Unless the powers that be decide that the United States is not going to do space exploration, the SLS will be built”

          There are lots of ways for the United States “to do space exploration” without building SLS, and practically all of them are billions of dollars less expensive and years faster than SLS. Like this one, the next White House will be aware of this fact, if for no other reason than many of the non-political expert staff will carry over.

          “and will be used.”

          One launch every half decade hardly qualifies as “use”.

          “We went through this whole exercise before with the project that eventually became the ISS.”

          No, we didn’t. There weren’t alternatives to ISS, and ISS had a heavy foreign policy justification. SLS has multiple alternatives, and no foreign policy justification (or any justification beyond preserving Shuttle jobs).

          “The next president is going to find ways to make it work”

          The only way SLS “works” is to boost the NASA budget by multiple billions of dollar annually. That’s not in the cards, regardless of who’s sitting in the White House.

          • Vladislaw

            As the Dec 2016 launch date, published in the Senate Bill, receded to the Dec 2017 launch date and now recedes to the Sept. 2018 launch date, doesn’t that also push the 2021 flight back also into the 2022-23 range?

            • Dick Eagleson

              Sure seems that way to me. It will probably slip even further given that NASA now seems to be entertaining the idea of sliding a second unmanned mission in between the first unmanned and first manned flights. This would be aimed at testing out the as yet purely notional quad-RL-10-powered Exploration Upper Stage so it can be used for the first manned flight of Orion. So that first manned flight not only has all the existing slippage risks of the initial Centaur-equipped SLS version, it has the additional considerable slippage risks associated with the Exploration Upper Stage, on which NASA has apparently barely started work. I think any rational analysis of SLS puts its first manned flight a minimum of a decade away. In other words, it’s never going to happen.

        • Vladislaw

          We have never went through this exercise as space transportation is the one and only form of transportation that the federal government protected as a government monopoly all other forms of transportation was immediately commercialized from the onset.

          Bicycles, planes, trains, automobiles, hell you can even buy commercial submarines everything is commercial and why you believe space transportation will not work under capitalism is beyond most of the readers on this board.

          Once there are turn key systems that NASA can buy, like the lynx, Whiteknight2 and spaceship2, you know COTS, commercial off the shelf then I will happily support NASA buying and using them.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Quite right. NASA will use what is available in the commercial market and be happy to do so once more of the Old Guard retire. NASA already uses Falcon 9 for CRS. NASA will also use it for ISS crew rotation. When Falcon Heavy goes into service – and Atlas V dies of terminal engine shortage – NASA will use FH for the deep space probe missions Atlas V used to fly. NASA will also use FH to boost whatever large pieces are required to rebuild ISS after the Russians leave with their modules in 2020 or possibly earlier.

            • Luke.

              Atlas V dies of terminal engine shortage

              We’re all hoping as much but ULA maitain otherwise:

              Notwithstanding Sanctions, ULA Standing By for RD-180 Deliveries through 2017

              “ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, expects to take delivery of the first two engines from that batch Aug. 20, Peller said. Three more would follow in October.”

              Nooooo! You greedy bastard Rogozin. Maybe the really do need all the hard currency they can get..

              “According to a July 21 story from Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency, Rogozin said “[P]resently, the sale of engines [to the U.S.] benefits our engine-making enterprises in that they use the money for their own modernisation.”

              Rogozin added, according to the story, “[w]e need the most modern engines that produce more thrust. In order to design them, we need free money. This is why we are prepared to sell them.”

              Peller said recent ULA visits to Russia might have had something to do with the deputy prime minister’s apparent change of heart.”

              • Dick Eagleson

                We’ll have a pretty good indication of the true state of things on Aug. 21 it would seem. What the Russians say is often unimportant. We shall see what it is they actually do.

  • E.P. Grondine

    I see a lot of theorizing without facts.

    We could have had DIRECT for $3 billion.

    Instead we had the ARES 1.

    We do not know in detail how that came about –

    In other words, Griffin’s thinking and architectures –

    And absolutely no space historian or journalist has the guts to take on the task of looking into that…

    So there you have it: my opinion of our current scriveners:
    not only gutless, but incapable of investigating their way out of a paper bag.

    If their copy is not handed to them in the form of an easily modified handout, they can’t write.

    • Jim Nobles

      If you want to call Mike Griffin names, go ahead. However, many of us have moved on…

      And if I understand the history correctly, DIRECT was better than Constellation but not better enough to take its place.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Jim

        “If you want to call Mike Griffin names, go ahead. However, many of us have moved on…”

        I am not here to call Griffin names.
        I’m sure Griffin had his reasons, but we do not know what they were.
        What we do know is that the US was about 8 years behind, and spent $8 billion.

        “And if I understand the history correctly, DIRECT was better than Constellation but not better enough to take its place.”

        There is no history for you to understand, and that is the problem.

        What I do want to do is to call the working journalists and historians incompetent and gutless suck-up pretenders.

        They are not providing their readers with information they need, so we end up with factless speculation.

        • Fred Willett

          DIRECT was better than Constellation but not better enough to take its place.
          Actually Direct was just a paper rocket. But if NASA were placed in charge of making it you can bet the cost would have ballooned to SLS proportions.
          Remember SpaceX offered to build a SLS equivalent for $2.5B and ULA (I think it was. Might have been Boeing) offered to build a SLS equivalent for $4B.
          It’s not the rocket. It’s the way it’s built.

    • Vladislaw

      As long as we are talking about woulda, coulda, shoulda .. Direct was already overshadowed by SpaceX with a 2.5 billion for 150 tons.

      Direct, utilizing old space shuttle would have never ended up being that inexpensive, the old space shuttle workforce, at 200 million a month, or 2.4 billion a year, and all the legacy hardware, would have pushed the prices more inline to historical numbers utilizing FAR and cost plus, fixed fee, sole source contracting.

      • Dick Eagleson

        Pretty much how I see it. There were a lot of Shuttle-derived ideas floating around in the 80’s and 90’s. Constellation and SLS are merely the two NASA tried to actually build. None of the unbuilt ones had any more prayer of being as cheap as Falcon Heavy than did COnstellation or does SLS.

  • Malmesbury

    SLS meets the requirement to do lots of R&D – which DIRECT didn’t do.

    ATK told Griffin that if they didn’t get a contract to develop 5 seg boosters, they would shut down any future SRB production and double the price of all their military solids to make the equivalent amount of profit.

    When it looked like DIRECT might actually win through, ATK destroyed the tooling for making the steel segments. To make sure that composite cases will have to be funded down the road.

    And so and so forth. The problem with DIRECT was that it was cheap and had little R&D. The advantage of SLS is that it is expensive.

    The comedy will continue.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Malmesbury –

      Can you prove any of that?

      What can be said for certain is that ATK had lots of money from Iraq war weapons sales.

      Goldin tried to move ATK into the composites business with the tank for X-33, which they also screwed up, hurting our aircraft manufacturers in the process.

      In any case, the comedy is over since that part of the company was sold to Orbital.

      • Malmesbury

        It’s all out there – read to get teh full background on this comedy.

        Why do you think suddenly Congresscriters were screaming about national security when taking about preserving segmented solid production – a product which has never been used for a military purpose?

        • E.P. Grondine

          “It’s all out there – read to get the full background on this comedy.”

          First off, “” is kind of a touchy subject for me, given Mr. Day’s and Mr. Oberg’s earlier activities – If you go back and look at the record, they did not like to discuss China’s manned Moon program, not impact, nor impactor detection.

          Of course, things have changed, and the rest have caught up with where I was over a decade ago.

          ARM is now NASA’s program of record.
          And Mr. Musk’s firm is now able to provide low cost launch to US sat makers.

          As has been stated to me multiple times, posts to the internet do not constitute anything reliable. They are not work, either.

          As I have my own work with the Traditional Histories of nearly all peoples who lived east of the Mississippi River, I expect a detailed account of the Ares 1 to be delivered to me all neatly footnoted and illustrated.
          Not undocumented gossip.

          Finally, I note that the Daily Mail has a science page.
          This could lead to a whole new slant on space industry reporting.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    IIRC, there is sufficient stock of RSRM-Vs and RS-25Ds for four SLS launches. I’m guessing that we’re going to see just those four launches:

    EM-1 (2018) – Test of non-crew-ready Orion in lunar fly-by;
    EFT-2 (2019 or 2020) – LEO crewed test flight of Orion (probably launched by Delta-IVH but possibly by Atlas-VH);
    EM-2 (2021) – Test of crewed Orion to EML-2 point (ARMR having been cancelled);
    SLS-03 (2023) – Launch of prototype DSH to EML-1 point;
    EM-3 (2023) – Launch of Orion to rendezvous with DSH-1 for explicit goal of setting a BEO crew endurance record.

    After that? Well, that depends on whether the new booster contract is in place and whether funding for RS-25E persists. Even this low-ambition mission plan requires the resolution of Orion’s various technical issues (not guaranteed in any way), development of some kind of DSH (again, funding not guaranteed) and the extension of the ESM contract to four units.

    • Dick Eagleson

      That assumes about a half-dozen bridges too far can be taken and held. I’m not optimistic. See my 3:35 PM comment above.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        I’ll say this much: drifting with inertia is easier than changing anything. That’s why any SLS cancellation will most likely take the form of walking out the SSME and RSRM-V stock, throwing together a pseudo-DSH from ATV and MPLM bits and simply not funding follow-ons beyond that point. That’s why I’m expecting the SLS upper stage being used on EM-2 onwards to basically be an stretched D-IVH upper stage with four RL-10Cs as that would be the simplest and cheapest option.

        • Vladislaw

          You are failing to account for the Falcon Heavy. Historically when an old transportation system, and the accompaning pork that is built up around it from it’s inception, ends, so does the support for the pork. You see this in three main areas. Communications, energy and transportation.

          Pony express > telegraph > Telephone > Satellite communications.
          Canals > railroads > automobiles/trucking> non fossil fuel based

          All these forms had their champions in congress fighting to keep them going right up until they lost that power and the pork moved to other forms.

          You will see the Apollo model get abandoned and the pork that goes with it. Politicans will see the writing on the wall and will no longer go along and the NASA pork will get stripped from it’s budget and NASA will buy all commercial services.

          • Ben Russell-Gough

            I think everyone is expecting too much of Falcon Heavy. I’m not expecting a high-energy upper stage. Unless there is a customer willing to pay up front, I’m not even expecting a BEO Dragon. At the moment, there is no commercial imperative for SpaceX to develop BEO crewed flight – that’s a decade or more in the future with MCT. SpaceX and others would not develop these capabilities unless NASA were willing to pay up front as with CRS.

            Additionally, you’re forgetting that the pork alliance around NASA and arsenal-produced HLV hasn’t vanished. Determination to continue to pour Federal funds into those organisations and processes remains strong. There is no reason, at this time, to say that the ‘Apollo model’ will be abandoned.

            Then there is the ‘retreat and declare victory’ instinct that all politicians have when faced by overwhelming facts. Even if they have to pull the plug on SLS, they will insist on having something to show for it. That’s why I do not believe a cancellation prior to EM-3 is likely. It’s the easiest way to cancel the program but still claim to be right all along.

            • Vladislaw

              The Executive branch, which has been fighting this has been making steady inroads. Starting with President Reagan and the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 and getting the
              Space Act 1958 ammended to include the following:

              (c) Commercial Use of Space.–Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

              Next came the Commercial Space Act of 1998 under President Clinton. This called for:

              “(A) the opportunities for commercial providers to play a role in International Space Station activities, including operation, use, servicing, and augmentation”

              We have seen over 350 million in additional investment just because of NanoRacks taking advantage of this commercial opportunity. A great panel discussion on it here:Space: The Next Industrial Revolution

              It also included:


              (a) In General.–Except as otherwise provided in this section, the Federal Government shall acquire space transportation services from United States commercial providers whenever such services are required in the course of its activities. To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers”

              This was immediately taken advantage of by the next President to the Executive branch President Bush. He outlined in The Vision for Space Exploration that American would now aquire commercial cargo and crew services to the International Space Station. Then NASA Administrator Griffin, did help shepard in commercial cargo but diverted funding from commercial crew to use on the ill fated Ares I, under the Constellation program, that Congress refused to fund and canceled that effort.

              The new Presidnet to the Executive branch, President Obama has ushered in commercial crew to the ISS and that will soon be flying. Once Bigelow Aerospace launches a commercial habitat the three legs of the stool will be complete, commercial cargo, crew and destination.

              So it may look like the status quo is unchanging but the landscape has changed from 1984. We are sitting at the tipping point and we will see this changes happen to the space states in the very new future.

              • Ben Russell-Gough

                The big assumption being that the BA330 ever flies. There are quite a few bottlenecks and catch-22s on the path to that objective.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Not a particularly big assumption. Bigelow recently announced its intentions to have a BA330-based LEO station up by 2017. The only launcher affordable, capable and likely to be available to do this deployment is Falcon Heavy. Falcon Heavy flies for the first time next year.

                I’d be interested in what you imagine those “bottlenecks and catch-22s” are that you allege stand in Bigelow’s way. I’m not seeing any.

              • Vladislaw

                I do not understand why I am making assumptions. Bigelow is already on the SpaceX flight manifest. There is also two Falcon Heavy launches on the flight manifest. The only assumption I am making is how many more will be added.

                SpaceX doesn’t even have to nail down the cross feed to start flying Falcon heavies. At 43+ metric tons to LEO without it and if only the two strap on’s end up being recovered the FH is destined to become a new workhorse in America’s launch family. It will not need a high energy 2nd stage or the cross feed or be reusable to be one hell of an addition.

              • Ben Russell-Gough

                Intent to fly =/= flight article or customers for your vehicle. That is the assumption.

              • Fred Willett

                Then NASA Administrator Griffin, did help shepherd in commercial cargo
                While this is technically true I don’t think NASA really meant COTS to succeed.
                The previous LV development program was the EELVs. The air force put up $1B, $500M each to Boeing and LM who put up the rest. But actual costs ran much higher than that. Something like $3B for just one of the vehicles.
                Yet NASA only put up half that amount, $500M for 2LVs AND 2 spacecraft. COTS only became a serious effort (and NASA kicked in another $300M) after it became clear Constellation was failing, the shuttle was going away and if they didn’t fund COTS then NASA wouldn’t have any space program at all.

              • Vladislaw

                That is a bit of an urban myth, the EELV program did get additional funding to, buy down risk, I believe that was the reason NASA or the Airforce gave.

                There was a 2 billion dollar ceiling cap for the program. 120 million was the first award (4 companies), then a 225 million risk reduction after the GAO said the numbers were not adding up.


              • Dick Eagleson

                Intent to fly =/= flight article or customers for your vehicle. That is the assumption.

                SpaceX already has two USAF payloads and an Intelsat payload booked for Falcon Heavy. Bigelow would be the third FH customer. SpaceX has customers for FH.

            • Dick Eagleson

              I’ll refer you once more to my comment above of yesterday at 3:35 PM plus all of my above comments from earlier today. There is at least one current FH customer, Bigelow Aerospace, with an already-designed payload, the BA2100, that is too heavy to launch on the Mk1 version of FH. I think Bigelow will be the initial customer for a Mk2 FH, most likely with a single-Raptor-powered upper stage, to put its really big habs up. One can argue about the precise timing of this, but I think this project will be at least publicly declared by 2017. There may even be some metal bent by that time. A Mk2 FH pretty well puts paid to any residual rationale a never-better-than Block 1 SLS has.

              As for SpaceX and BEO human spaceflight, FH will have a lot of business putting up one or more BA330’s modified for use as spacecraft on the LEO to LLO run, first for elite tourism, then for others who have lunar surface ambitions. FH will take up lunar landers, propellant depot hardware and loads of propellant to keep the landers and powered hab cycler craft going and coming. F9R will move the people manning these missions to their initial LEO points of departure and bring them back down when they return from the Moon.

              I also wouldn’t bet on SpaceX’s MCT, or whatever its family of Raptor-powered BFR’s is called, being especially “distant.” Elon’s initial manned Mars mission might depart in as little as ten years. These BFR’s will find plenty of non-Mars-centric employment too.

              • Fred Willett

                Yea. The Raptor is under development right now.
                Musk’s short term goal is reusability. First stage reusability is in work.
                To get a reusable upper stage he needs a stage with as much margin as possible, and we all know the existing F9 RP1 stage under performs.
                It’s odds on the first use of the Raptor will be as big and badass a methane 2nd stage as SpaceX can manage. If not for F9 then at least for FH.
                Now a 2nd stage, fully fueled makes a great in space transport system. If you can refuel it at LEO and L1, Phobos and LMO you’ve got a basic Mars Transport system. Add back legs and the techonology from grasshopper and you’ve got a Mars or lunar lander. Add a BA330 to make an in-space crew vehicle, or a dragon to your lander to handle crew. None of this is optimal. NASA would surely separately design an optimal vehiole for each part of this transport system, but something like I’ve described would be cheap and practical.

              • Vladislaw

                Didn’t Masten get an old centaur upper stage to try and build a horizontal landing system with it?

              • Andrew Swallow


                The Centaur based lander Masten is developing is called Xeus and forms part of NASA’s Lunar_CATALYST initiative.

                It will need a away of getting to Lunar orbit.

              • E.P. Grondine

                Hi Dick –

                “Elon’s initial manned Mars mission might depart in as little as ten years.”

                Not unless the back contamination problem is definitively solved. Period.

                It is far more likely that SpaceX will be launching long distance rovers with HD cameras to Mars, either private sector or public.

                “These BFR’s will find plenty of non-Mars-centric employment too.”

                Yes, I agree. In any case, in my opinion, 2017 is near enough for US decision making on heavies.

              • Dick Eagleson

                It would certainly be nice if one or more of the probes planned for Mars surface ops in the next 10 years definitively settles the “Is there indigenous life on Mars or not?” question. But that doesn’t seem to be a red-hot priority for some reason.

                It’s also at least possible that the Martian surface environment has already been contaminated with Earth microbes from insufficiently sterilized probe hardware of 1970’s vintage. NASA’s standards of cleanliness were apparently a bit less rigorous then than now. I know there was some surviving biological stuff on the pieces of the Surveyor brought back from the Moon by one of the Apollo missions.

                The first boots-on-the-ground human mission to Mars will result in contamination. Period. It simply isn’t possible to hermetically seal humans away from a planetary environment upon which they intend to build and live, or even just visit.

                I don’t think that fairly obvious truth is likely to impede any actual missions, particularly not privately funded ones. The scientists have had 40 years to do with a supposedly pristine Martian environment whatever they had it in mind to do. I don’t think anyone but whacko Greenies is going to favor granting them another four decades in which to muck about desultorily on the life-or-no-life question. I know I’m not.

              • E.P. Grondine

                Hi Dick –

                “It would certainly be nice if one or more of the probes planned for Mars surface ops in the next 10 years definitively settles the “Is there indigenous life on Mars or not?” question.”

                Yes it sure would.

                “But that doesn’t seem to be a red-hot priority for some reason.”

                Just a guess, but probably because the whole manned flight to Mars circus comes to a screeching halt at any time organisms are found there.

                Such a discovery sure would bring an abrupt end to SLS, providing there is not a piece of space junk headed our way… in which case space priorities change rapidly.

                “It’s also at least possible that the Martian surface environment has already been contaminated with Earth microbes from insufficiently sterilized probe hardware of 1970′s vintage.”

                That does not really matter, except for the effect on the task of determining whether there is life on Mars.

                “I don’t think that fairly obvious truth is likely to impede any actual missions, particularly not privately funded ones.”

                In that contaminating Mars is not the problem…

                “I don’t think anyone but whacko Greenies is going to favor granting them another four decades in which to muck about desultorily on the life-or-no-life question. I know I’m not.”

                Uh yeah, whacko Greenies and a whole lot of other people are not likely to risk Earth’s biosphere for a few peoples’ intense desires.

                If Musk wants to go, he’s going to have to figure out how to clear this hurdle. Or plan on going one way.

                Of course, with low cost launch, different ways of clearing the back-contamination hurdle become feasible…

  • Andrew Swallow

    If SLS will be ready two or more years before Orion then change payloads. Use a SLS to send the second Bigelow spacestation to EML-2.

    This sets up future manned missions to both Mars and the Moon.

    • Fred Willett

      Bigelow is never going to launch one of their modules on a LV that costs north of $1B a pop.
      They’ll launch on something commercial. FH or DIVH.
      Of course in theory NASA could buy a Bigelow module and launch it on SLS but putting it on a $1B+ LV when the self same payload launches on FH or DIVH for a fraction of the price. No.
      I don’t think NASA would enjoy looking stupid. Besides SpaceX would immediately sue them. It’s a requirement under law that NASA must use a commercial LV if one is available.
      Seriously can you think of any circumstance where SpaceX wouldn’t sue over something like that?

      • Dick Eagleson


      • Andrew Swallow

        NASA would have this big rocket it may as well do something useful with it. A BA-330DS is a medium priced test load.

        As for SpaceX it will probably be applying for the EML commercial spacestation resupply contract, sister to CRS and CC. It will lose that contract, with its multiple FH launches, if there is no spacestation there.

        • Fred Willett

          This all goes back to one of Jeff Greasons policy talks. He showed a sand chart.
          The figures in it weren’t serious. As Jeff Said:
          “In the best NASA tradition I just made it up.”
          The point was that any bit of infrastructure becomes a block of funding that stretches indefinately into the future. ISS for example is an on going block of funding of (say) $3B aa year. Ditto for SLS and so on.
          With NASA getting an essentially flat funding ($17B) into the indefinate future the only way you get money to do something different is to cancel an existing program. That is if you want a base at L1 you need to cancel something else. ISS or SLS spring to mind.
          The problem is that this doesn’t get you any further.
          You’ve (say) cancelled ISS to built an L1 base. Next you’ll need to cancel the L1 base to build…. well you see the problem.
          As Jeff pointed out if you are going to have a serious space program you need to find a way to move each now thing off of NASA’s books.
          i.e. commercialise it. To free up money to de the next thing.
          And you need to do this not just once, but continuously.
          This is what commercial crew and commercial cargo is about. Moving the cost of transport from NASA to commercial, making it a business.
          The same thing needs to be done for ISS. And, yes SLS.
          You can have your big rocket, but you can’t have Mars. It’s an either or situation.

          • Andrew Swallow

            NASA will have to find a way of running spacestations at LEO and EML-2 for the same annual cost as the ISS. Difficult.

            • Fred Willett

              NASA spokespersons have stated on several occasions that the next space station after ISS will be commercial.
              The trick is going to be to manage the transition, and what to do with ISS when it goes past it’s “use by” date.
              This may not be official NASA policy yet, but it’s the way their planning is tending.
              1/ Wait till Bigelow (or someone else) has a commercial station on orbit.
              2/ Lease space on it.
              3/ Transfer ops to the new ISS Mk 2.
              4/ Decommission ISS and either dump it in the ocean or push it out past GEO.

        • Ben Russell-Gough

          NASA would have this big rocket it may as well do something useful with it.

          Yes, a reasonable person would think that, wouldn’t they? Unfortunately, this is the realm of politics, not reason.

  • Malmesbury

    “IIRC, there is sufficient stock of RSRM-Vs and RS-25Ds for four SLS launches. I’m guessing that we’re going to see just those four launches”

    It will be interesting to see what figure ATK comes out with to build boosters after the existing steel casings are all gone.

    My estinate is the development *price* would be 3x the cost of building the Delta derived heavy lifter.

    One can only wonder what the usual suspects will charge for reinventing the wheel (aka the RS-25). Look at J2X.

    The one bright light in all this was a savage attack on the F1 resurrection project I came across – apparently there is too little interest in radical development work. The people working on it just want to build a tuned up version of the F1A….

    • Malmesbury

      That article is so full of errors that they meet up to form a single vast pile of nonsense.

    • Dick Eagleson

      The linked article is virtually pure hogwash from beginning to end.

    • josh

      pure bullshit from no surprise there.

    • Thanks for the link. This is the era of the Crony Capitalist. Al Gore, Tom Steyer, Elon Musk. Each of these serpents has their unique con, but the result is the same. Massive transfer of wealth from the tax coffers to to a few well connected democrats.

      • E.P. Grondine

        That should read “massive transfer of wealth from the tax coffers to to a few well connected republicans and democrats.”, because the republicans get more money.

        Its corporatism, what Ron Paul talks about.

        When US industry can not compete, it goes to suck on the government teat. The rot goes deep.

        Musk saw an opening in the launch market, and used his money, but then “got help”.

        He also saw an opening in electric cars, and now sees one in AI.

        I like the way that the usual suspects are trying to re-write history, pretending that Musk’s SpaceX was further along than it was when key decisions were taken. But then they make up a lot of history about Griffin, presenting their guesses as facts.

        • Dick Eagleson

          I like the way that the usual suspects are trying to re-write history, pretending that Musk’s SpaceX was further along than it was when key decisions were taken.

          Not sure what you are referring to here.

          But then they make up a lot of history about Griffin, presenting their guesses as facts.

          Again, not sure what you’re referring to here. The broad outlines of Griffin’s tenure as NASA Administrator are fairly clear in any event. Constellation was entirely his idea. It was big. It was dumb. It cratered big-time. He’s gone from NASA and now has to content himself running some little crumb-chasing consulting outfit in Huntsville. Not a lot else need be said as far as I’m concerned.

          Musk saw an opening in the launch market, and used his money, but then “got help”.

          Musk got a payload into orbit on his own dime. That separated him pretty thoroughly from the long line of previous commercial space entrepreneurs who crashed and burned without ever reaching space. It also convinced NASA he was legit enough to approach about doing something more ambitious for them they didn’t have sufficient funds to pursue in the old ways with the usual contractors. The “help” wasn’t a handout, he was expected to produce. He did.

          He also saw an opening in electric cars, and now sees one in AI.

          The electric car thing seems to be working out too. At least the government didn’t waste whatever it laid on Tesla like it did on Solyndra, Fisker and a depressingly long list of others. As for AI, the only thing I’ve seen Elon say about that is that it scares him.

      • Jim Nobles

        Amightywind, does it not matter to you at all that the article was bogus from beginning to end? Are you seriously that far gone?

          • Dick Eagleson

            When it comes to SpaceX, you are well-known to be completely impervious to facts and actual accomplishments so I wouldn’t expect mere criticism of a fellow SpaceX critic to make much impression either. The next three or four years are going to be absolutely excruciating for guys like you, Mark Whittington, Kelly Starks and Chriss Street. You guys all might want to look into whether Costco has Prozac available in 55 gal. drums.

  • Egad

    Just for amusement and the record, here’s a letter to the editor of the San Antonio Express News Rep. Lamar Smith sent in the other day. (This is the latest of several epistles Smith has produced lately bashing various Obama Administration misdeeds.)

    Funding NASA

    Re: “Texas leads in emissions, fights change,” Editorial, July 27L

    The editorial questioned my criticism of how the president has chosen to fund our nation’s space agency.

    What the editorial failed to mention is that there are 13 other agencies that are spending almost $2.5 billion just this year on climate change research. But only one agency conducts space exploration — NASA.

    President Obama has shifted NASA’s focus away from space exploration, instead transferring the agency’s limited resources to climate-change.

    The administration’s approach has been to raid NASA’s space exploration budget to fund its partisan environmental agenda. In this year’s budget, the president seeks a reduction of $219 million for launch vehicle development.

    NASA’s top priority should be space exploration.

    The president should stop draining NASA and let our scientists, engineers and explorers pursue the next giant leap for mankind.

    U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio

    • Vladislaw

      I wonder how many NASA funding increases the President proposed ole’ Lamar voted against.

      I would also like him to define “draining” of NASA and how much?

    • E.P. Grondine

      Not collecting data on what is going on does not change it.

      Nor does suppressing data on what is going on change it.

    • Rep. Lamar Smith was the one who wanted to put two people in an Orion capsule in 2021 to fly past Mars and Venus — without any funding, without any radiation protection, without any habitat module, without any provisions for food and water.

      They’re going to look out the window and take pictures of things already photographed by robotic probes.

      This will “inspire” us, according to Rep. Smith.

      I feel sorry for the people in his district — but not too much, because they’re the ones who elected him.

  • Things are going pretty well.

    Good enough for me.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Good enough for me.”

      Such high standards.

    • common sense

      I understand.

      And by the way the world is flat – as we all know – so technically you might even assume that by bringing the SLS to the edge of the world and by just pushing it over, well, the SLS might even make it to the Moon by gravity alone.

  • tarun khandwal

    I think it is a starting of new journey of NASA in the space industry

  • As an aside, I thought I’d tell everyone that my campaign to be elected President in November 2016 is also on track. :-)

    • Neil

      Hey Stephen that’s great. Just like SLS. How’s your donation campaign going?

    • Hiram

      You’d probably not like to use that simile. I suspect that when you’re elected president, you won’t be unaffordable, and considered a make-work project. More importantly, I suspect your campaign won’t be based on exceptionalistic bombast.

      As to SLS being on track, who cares? NASA projects are almost always “on track”, until they aren’t.

      • Dick Eagleson

        Yeah. Historically, a lot of those “tracks” seem to have been the kind you see in those Road Runner cartoons – the kind that end at a mountain with a tunnel painted on the side.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    And the hits keep coming:

    “NASA Officials: Orion ‘Challenged’ To Make 2017 Launch Date”

    “Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager, told SpaceNews here Aug. 5 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2014 conference that timely delivery of Europe’s ATV-based service module remains a concern.

    ‘We’re struggling to make December 2017, and I have a lot of challenges to make that date,’ Geyer said…

    … Whether Orion will be ready remains an open question. In addition to the schedule challenges at ESA and Airbus, NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver have been dealing with schedule challenges of their own.

    Orion’s heat shield… came out of the factory with cracks and had to be recured… welds on the complex plumbing for Orion’s propulsion system ‘took us longer than we expected,’ Geyer said… teams also had to take time to repair the crew module’s pressure vessel, which cracked during proof tests”

    • “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?” — Cmdr Alan Shepard

      In developing our space program NASA encountered seemingly insurmountable problems, and solved them. Lockmart can fix the supposed issues with the heat shield. As I recall, wasn’t Ares I supposed to crash into the launch tower, then shake itself apart in flight?

      • Vladislaw

        So fifty YEARS after Apollo they are still dealing with the same issues? The legacy companies have not learned anything? The problems seem “insurmountable” Really? After a half a century?

        Sheesh .. it isn’t a freakin’ “candle” anymore .. they are not launching old ICBM’s…

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “In developing our space program NASA encountered seemingly insurmountable problems, and solved them.”

        There’s a huge difference between “seemingly insurmountable” and “actually insurmountable”.

        “Lockmart can fix the supposed issues with the heat shield.”

        Only by adding more mass, which isn’t available. The CM is already 20-25% overweight for EM-2.

        And then they’ve still got problems with the propellant lines and structure that add mass to the CM, as well as ESA’s overweight SM.

        And then they’ve got to find room for life support systems, development of which has been delayed until after EM-1.

        And hopefully AA-2 doesn’t uncover more problems after a four-year delay.

        Yeah, after ten years and billions of taxpayer dollars, NASA and LockMart clearly have their arms around all of Orion’s “supposed issues”.

        “‘Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?’ — Cmdr Alan Shepard”

        Shepard was complaining about launch delays, not an engineering design that doesn’t close.

        “As I recall, wasn’t Ares I supposed to crash into the launch tower,”

        Ares I-X was supposed to damage its launch tower, which it did:

        “Pad 39B Suffers Substantial Damage From Ares I-X Launch”

        “then shake itself apart in flight?”

        Without billions of more taxpayer dollars in multiple passive and active countermeasures, the five-segment Ares I would likely have shaken itself and/or its crew into mission failures. Fortunately, we stopped going down that road and the five-segment Ares I never flew.

        • E.P. Grondine

          And we still have no idea why Griffin came up with the entire architecture.

          Nor why he did not know of the problems with stand alone solids.

      • Vladislaw

        As I recall the world sure jumped at the chance for a new ATK “Liberty” rocket. How is that working out for you?

        • Malmesbury

          One of the reasons that “Liberty” has failed to get any traction is that satellites have strict tolerances for vibration. ATK tried the novel line that “you should build your satellites specially to tolerate our launch environment”.

          The other was the price – higher than Ariane 5?!?

          Strangely the potential buyers said no.

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