Congress, NASA

With an SLS slip looming, one senator wants to keep NASA’s budget “on track”

An announcement Wednesday by NASA that the first launch of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket could slip by nearly a year has led one key senator to suggest the program needs some budgetary help.

NASA announced Wednesday that the SLS passed its Key Decision Point C (KDP-C) review, an assessment of the program’s technical and programmatic progress. The result of the review was an estimate of the program’s development cost ($7.021 billion from February 2014 to first launch). It also provided an estimate of when SLS would be ready for its first launch: no later than November, 2018. That’s nearly a year later than the currently scheduled date of that first launch, designated EM-1, of December 2017.

In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday afternoon, NASA officials tried to emphasize that the November 2018 date was not a firm launch date, but instead the result of the 70-percent joint confidence level model used for the review. . “If we don’t do anything, we basically have a 70-percent chance of getting to that date,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, adding that he was pushing his team to have SLS ready before then. “We will be there by November of 2018, but I look to my team to do better than that.”

However, he also admitted it was unlikely the SLS would be ready in December 2017 as previously planned. “It’s probably sometime in the 2018 timeframe,” he said, “but we don’t want to get too specific now.” NASA will have a better handle on the launch date for the EM-1 mission after completing KDP-C reviews for SLS ground systems later this year and Orion early next year.

SLS had been on a roller coaster in recent months. In July, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned of cost and schedule risks because of insufficient funding that could delay the EM-1 launch by six months. Earlier this month, though, SLS program manager Todd May said the GAO report was based on “obsolete” funding data and that the program had several months of slack on its critical path.

Part of May’s comments were based on additional funding Congress provided to SLS for the current fiscal year and House and Senate appropriations bills fiscal year 2015 that would also increase SLS funding above the administration’s request. But with the potential for a slip in the SLS program, could some members seek more funding for the program?

One senator thinks that, at the very least, the program’s current funding needs to be protected. “Technically things look good,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), in a statement provided by his office late Wednesday. “But we need to keep the budget on track so NASA can meet an earlier readiness date – which I think can be done.”

51 comments to With an SLS slip looming, one senator wants to keep NASA’s budget “on track”

  • Mercy777

    “Technically things look good”. Politician ‘speak’ for ‘We’re so screwed’.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “But with the potential for a slip in the SLS program, could some members seek more funding for the program?”

    Given that November 2018 is just the SLS launch readiness date and not the actual launch date for EM-1, which also depends on MPCV and GSE progress and reviews, it would be stupid of Congress to throw more funding at SLS now. No matter how much taxpayer money is spent on SLS, EM-1 can’t be accelerated if MPCV is broken. Only after MPCV and GSE finish their KDP-C reviews can NASA set the launch date for EM-1, and it will be later than November 2018. Unless/until MPCV can get its act together, adding funding to SLS to accelerate actual launch schedules is throwing good money after bad.

    “In July, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned of cost and schedule risks because of insufficient funding that could delay the EM-1 launch by six months. Earlier this month, though, SLS program manager Todd May said the GAO report was based on ‘obsolete’ funding data and that the program had several months of slack on its critical path.”

    This is another reason not to throw more money at SLS — its incompetent manager. Just a few weeks ago, this idiot was claiming that SLS had enough schedule slack for a 2017 launch date. Now he only has a 2-in-3 shot at making 2018. May’s job is to keep his finger on the pulse of SLS. Apparently, May can’t even find an artery. Before anyone contemplates throwing more money at SLS, May and the work/schedule/budget tracking system he’s put in place should be removed and replaced by someone experienced and by a system that’s proven to work. Only then would there be some glimmer of certainty that taxpayer funds won’t get flushed down an untrackable drain.

    What a looming programmatic disaster…

  • Coastal Ron

    The House has no funding in their recently completed FY15 budget for building SLS missions, so spending any money to accelerate the SLS schedule doesn’t do anything useful. Well, besides spending more money on future museum pieces… ;-)

  • James

    History has a lovely way of repeating itself, despite the efforts of silly humans!
    Can’t wait for 2016 Pres to convene Augustine III!

    And pumping more money into the SLS does not move the launch date up. All it does is increase the likelihood , from 70% now, to some higher level, of meeting existing schedule. The only way to move things to the left is to do less.

    • Hiram

      The Administration, which got strong-armed to do SLS, needs only a few indications of serious fiscal disarray to do an Augustine III. No doubt it very much wants to do that. Itchy trigger finger. And yes, the White House itself won’t pull the trigger on SLS demise unless some esteemed committee comes in to recommend that. We’re starting to get the first hints of that serious fiscal disarray right now. SLS management knows that it’s in a precarious position here — follow the plan, or get shut down.

      EML-1 is looked at as the holy grail here. But let’s face it. In the popular view, an unmanned launch of a mega-huge rocket is good for a lot of flame and heat, but not much human spaceflight excitement. But what does it DO? Apollo 4, the first flight of the Saturn V, happened only about a year before the first human mission, with a second unmanned one in between. But NASA is going to twiddle its fingers for three or four years before any rear-ends get pushed on.

      It would be interesting to speculate about what evidence the Administration needs to have in hand to pull that trigger.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “It would be interesting to speculate about what evidence the Administration needs to have in hand to pull that trigger.”

        As much as I would love to see the Obama Administration take action sooner than the next White House, they gave NASA reform a shot, got almost nothing for their effort, and logically have zero interest in returning to and expending more capital on such a low-priority, low-return issue. There’s simply too many higher-return, higher-priority issues to deal with for the remainder of Obama’s term.

        Moreover, terminating SLS calls into question ARM and the President’s 2025 NEO goal. Better to maintain appearances for the next couple years so that Clinton II or Christie (or whoever) can be blamed for ending that dream, not the awful 2010 NASA Authorization Act compromises that Jack Lew agreed to on behalf of the Administration with Nelson et al.

        We’ve been to this show before with Bush II and Constellation. After Columbia, rolling out the VSE, and appointing Griffin, they were done. Even when Ares I/Orion was slipping year-for-year and its development costs had skyrocketed to ~$40B, the Bush II Administration made no effort to manage or correct the problem.

        Again, I wish the current Administration would take action, but there’s no reason to believe that they’ll do so.

        • Hiram

          Probably correct. For better or worse, SLS was started on Obama’s watch. At some level, he takes the blame when the project craters.

          Now, let’s be careful. The President’s NEO goal was hardly a passionate desire of this President. It was an excuse for not going back to the Moon. It was about touching rocks, which is what we all know that exploration simply must entail. This President doesn’t give a fizz about NEOs. He just wants to reassure everyone that rocks will be touched, one way or another.

          But yes, we can look at the coming SLS disaster as a setup for the next President.

          • Gerald R Everett

            Agree that this is likely coarse of events but there is one caveat.If the Republicans get both houses of congress, the administration will be doing nothing legislatively and will rely on presidential initiatives to fill out the term. They will be looking at things like SLS/Space policy where they have some leverage.

        • red

          “they gave NASA reform a shot, got almost nothing for their effort, and logically have zero interest in returning to and expending more capital on such a low-priority, low-return issue.”

          I think they gave up way too much in the 2010 compromise, but I wouldn’t say they got almost nothing for their effort (politically they got a lot of hassle but I’m talking about substance). The future of ISS by 2015 was questionable, and now it’s supposed to run through some time in the 2020′s, and it’s being used more for remote sensing, space technology, science, various new commercial/private partnerships (like Nanoracks, various cubesats, BEAM, CASIS), etc. Commercial cargo was strengthened and now we might see some interesting cargo improvements with CRS2. Commercial crew was started. Some NASA areas (particularly in KSC) are finding commercial uses. While nothing like the originally intended big reform and budget boost, some space technology areas were restored and patched up here and there. While nothing like the originally intended revival of robotic precursors, they’re looking into cubesat robotic precursor missions and ISRU on Mars 2020.

          In other words, the situation is bad now, but it probably would have been a whole lot worse without the FY2011 reform attempt.

          “Moreover, terminating SLS calls into question ARM and the President’s 2025 NEO goal.”

          I really don’t think the Administration cares about the 2025 NEO goal or ARM. The NEO goal was just an attempt to appease people complaining about “no HSF destination/schedule” while responding to the pre-Augustine Committee calls for various non-surface stepping stone destinations on the way to Mars orbit. ARM is just a variant of that when faced with the inability to do much of anything while SLS/Orion exist.

          It’s probably futile for the Administration to attempt a big overhaul like they tried with FY2011, or to expect them to. However, they at least could (and should) attempt a partial reform. For example, they could leave SLS and SLS ground systems alone, figuring the constituents for those are too powerful, and just go after Orion with its mass, schedule, and cost problems. They were already able to extract the Orion SM from its constituents, so it can be done. They could try to replace Orion with cislunar space versions of commercial cargo and then crew competitions. This would likely leave funding left over for something for SLS to do (e.g.: Europa Clipper, commercial partnership hab/gateway/lunar lander to work with the cislunar commercial capsule). There would also likely be funding left over to sooth the Orion constituents (e.g.: more capabilities for Dream Chaser). This would also allow ESA to make a more useful contribution than the Orion SM.

      • Fred Willett

        The Administration, which got strong-armed to do SLS, needs only a few indications of serious fiscal disarray to do an Augustine III….
        It would be interesting to speculate about what evidence the Administration needs to have in hand to pull that trigger.

        Not going to happen. Augustine was clear.
        SLS is impossible without upping NASA’s budget by $3B p a.
        All right. Congress insisted we have SLS. The Prez said OK and proposed upping NASA’s budget by $1B. Congress voted it down!! Presumably the SLS is to be funded by magic beans. The Prez has ignored it ever since.
        But somehow congress failing to fund something is the President’s fault. Go figure.
        Bottom line. Why should the big O have any interest in HSF when congress clearly doesn’t.

  • The SLS won’t be fully operational anyway until the the upper stage is developed and the expendable RS-25E engines are ready. So the real SLS probably won’t be ready until 2021.

    But the SLS could still be put to good use before 2020 by using the old SSME to perhaps deploying Bigelow’s largest space habitat concept, the Olympus 2100, at LEO for space tourism and by deploying a Skylab II at LEO for NASA. Both could be internally equipped with hypergravity centrifuges to help to mitigate the deleterious effects of microgravity on the human body.

    But the Obama administration’s beyond LEO strategy, however, is politically and economically unsustainable mostly because of the multi-year gaps between SLS launches. Fortunately, the Obama administration will finally be out of office after 2016 so NASA can finally focus on having– a real– beyond LEO space program in the 2020s.

    Marcel

    • Matt McClanahan

      Fortunately, the Obama administration will finally be out of office after 2016 so NASA can finally focus on having– a real– beyond LEO space program in the 2020s.

      That’s putting quite a lot of faith in an as-yet unknown next President. Especially considering no President has ever championed a real beyond LEO space program. No, VSE doesn’t count. Bush II doesn’t get points for putting his name on a vision plan and then doing nothing to see it through afterwards.

      I’d certainly love for a President to come along who will fulfill your expectations, but since there’s never been one yet, I’m not holding my breath.

    • Hiram

      “But the SLS could still be put to good use before 2020 by using the old SSME to perhaps deploying Bigelow’s largest space habitat concept, the Olympus 2100, at LEO for space tourism and by deploying a Skylab II at LEO for NASA. Both could be internally equipped with hypergravity centrifuges to help to mitigate the deleterious effects of microgravity on the human body.”

      And the NASA technological wizards can come up with a new way of printing money. You know, with “additive manufacturing” maybe. Why, we could set up a money-printing facility on ISS! Dragon would be fully capable of returning reams of dollar bills back to Earth where they can be turned into habitats and centrifuges and resurrect SSMEs.

    • Coastal Ron

      Marcel F. Williams said:

      But the Obama administration’s beyond LEO strategy, however, is politically and economically unsustainable mostly because of the multi-year gaps between SLS launches.

      It is unsustainable – which is why the Obama Administration didn’t want an HLV yet. Unfortunately Congress was more interested in jobs, which is why we have an HLV that Congress (ironically) refuses to fund uses for.

      The solution that everyone seems to agree upon, but just won’t acknowledge in public, is the cancel the SLS. But don’t worry, it’s coming soon…

    • Andrew Swallow

      Non-NASA stuff has to make a profit. It could be 20+ years before there are sufficient tourists to fill a Olympus 2100 space hotel in LEO.

      Use the SLS to push a Bigelow BA-330-DS to EML-2 for use by NASA. Supplying the extra 3770m/s delta-v needs a big rocket

    • Vladislaw

      It will not matter what a President says if congress, who controls the checkbook, wants pork instead of actual hardware. The pork premium is now so high the only thing the next person in the whitehouse will do is what all Presidents try to do .. end the pork train and scale back NASA personal and dump a couple NASA centers.

    • pathfinder_01

      “But the Obama administration’s beyond LEO strategy, however, is politically and economically unsustainable mostly because of the multi-year gaps between SLS launches. Fortunately, the Obama administration will finally be out of office after 2016 so NASA can finally focus on having– a real– beyond LEO space program in the 2020s.”

      Not quite. The production capacity of SLS is about 2 rockets a year that is all the program is sized for. That and lack of payloads or budget for payloads is whats limiting it. SLS is not the space shuttle and it’s production is not sized for an faster flight rate(huge size , old 1970is technology that was intended for re-usability and expend-ability does come at an cost and that cost is low flight rate). It would be orders of magnitude cheaper to launch an smaller station on an smaller rocket like Delta heavy or Falcon Heavy. Bigger is not always better(just ask the dinosaurs).

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Except that there is no will to build another SLS core beyond the two for EM-1 and EM-2 before 2021… and the PLF won’t be ready until 2023. The problem is that SLS is being treated as the ‘pet project that the Boss loves too much to cancel’. NASA are doing what they are told but have shown no indication that they are willing to push the program forward beyond specific Congressional demands.

  • Robert G. Oler

    What is depressing is not that SLS and Orion are following the typical NASA/Contractor path, or are over budget and behind schedule or that the pols who support it just dont care…but that almost no one seems to have a vision for NASA beyond “just going forward”

    the 7 billion (and it will be more) stated could do an enormous amount of good in terms of stabilizing and expanding ISS; which the nation has already invested billions (hundreds of) in…if the stabilizng and expansion were done in a model of the commercial crew/cargo…but of course that requires some vision.

    As an aside another depressing thought if you believe the stuff at NASAspaceflight.com is that JSC and the SLS folks have just about given up on most HUMAN missions for SLS…its all about massive uncrewed programs.

    But it makes America proud :) RGO

    • Hiram

      ” …no one seems to have a vision for NASA beyond ‘just going forward’ ”

      Fundamentally, that’s a conversation that has to happen in Congress. What exactly does the nation want from space “exploration”, and human space flight in particular? Let’s talk about real measurable return (no, not “inspiration”, please), and not just destinations. The Space Act is a good start, but the fact that it doesn’t mention human space flight is downright embarrassing to the agency that has grown up doing it.

      Until this nation has that conversation, NASA is in la la land

      • Robert G. Oler

        Well. I agree with most of that although I would add this.

        While the bulk of the problems with the country lay at the feet of a irresponsible almost traitorish Republican Party….Obama is to blame (and in my view will be blamed in history) for a failure to 1) lay out any clear goals for NASA (and the other things) which are different from the path that they had been on , or put on by his predecessor and 2) motivating the nation to support those goals politically

        His space effort illustrates this. The GOP (and you can see this here) constantly lie about what Obama promised or the trajectory of various programs he inherited or their own culpability in the failure of those programs. That is what the party has become… But Obama’s (and by definition Bolden and his crew) have been just as weak &&&& (to parrot aline used about Obama) in defining a new course and what that course will accomplish.

        ending the lunar program (which was no real program at all) was not based on it failing or costing to much or….it sums up in “well we have been there done that” which immediately gives a point (legitimate) of mocking by people…there is no “do you know what it means if we return thelauncher industry back to the US” or “we get 1 a week launch capability” or …..

        Instead it is just replace one dorky program with the other and then all we are arguing over is “which dorky program are we doing”.

        Obama canont seem to break out of this mold across the board so it doesnt surprise me that he is stuck in it in a space program venue.

        Human exploration of space as a reason for NASA is today as dead as a Iraqi state…the problem is Obama and the GOP cannot figure that out RGO

      • common sense

        I agree with Hiram again. And that is why I want to transition HSF to private activities. If we as a nation cannot figure why to do it then maybe the private sector can. And if they cannot then maybe we should focus on other worthwhile human endeavors.

        I doubt we will ever have a significant conversation on that matter though. There was an embryonic one started with Augustine and it led to SLS/MPCV with no mission.

        A serious conversation I am afraid will result in even less HSF conducted as a nation.

        The real and only reason today is survival of the species. But the technology does not exist no matter what Elon is saying. Can the technology exist? Yes probably to make Mars a life boat but not much more than that. For now.

        Other things are coming online such as synthetic biology and brain mapping but I suspect we are at least 50 years away from any significant progress. Should we invest in such areas or big rockets? I prefer the science since this may eventually help save us. A big rocket will not.

        • Hiram

          “And that is why I want to transition HSF to private activities. If we as a nation cannot figure why to do it then maybe the private sector can.”

          I think that’s pretty much the score. The private sector needs no national consensus to do ambitious human space flight activities. It is not beholden to meeting national needs. It fears no fiscal unsustainability from congressional metamorphosis and policy evolution.

          And yes, a national conversation about the importance of human space flight is not likely to support it strongly. Which is why we’re not having that conversation. There is no incentive among space advocates to have it.

          As to species survival, HSF is just one approach, and a fairly passive one at that. If we’re worried about asteroids spoiling our lunch, we should track and deflect them. If we’re worried about war, then we should put an ISSBM (inter solar system ballistic missle) shield around Mars before we go there. If we’re worried about disease, then human biology is probably a better investment. In fact, species preservation may not require much more than a big freezer on Mars. Send a few people there if you need to use it.

          • common sense

            Actually a national conversation on species survival would make a lot of sense. Global warming, wars, Ebola and the likes, asteroids…

            There are a multitude of opportunities to self terminate our species in addition to natural catastrophes.

            But as usual we will wait for the big thing to happen until we actually dedicate any time/money to do something. And come to think of it KSC and Vandenberg may be under water by then. So no rocket anyway. Or we’ll have to pay… the Russians!!! Darn.

            Oh well.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    For the record, a few SLS facts and figures.

    The confidence level in the new November 2018 date for the first launch of SLS (EM-1) is only 70%. This means that the project has about a 1-in-3 chance of slipping to 2019 or later, assuming no issues not already worked into the estimate crop up.

    The project was started in 2011, and the 2010 NASA Authorization Act required SLS to launch by 2016. It is now four years later, and the likely launch date for EM-1 has slipped to 2018 or later, a slip of two years in the first launch of SLS. That’s one year of schedule slippage for every two years that the project has existed. If the SLS schedule continues to slip at this rate over the next four years, the date of the first SLS launch will slip from 2018 to 2020. And then from 2018 to 2020, SLS will slip one more year or so before finally launching for the first time somewhere in the 2021-2022 timeframe.

    We’ve spent over $6 billion on SLS through the end of FY 2014. All figures are prior year actuals or enacted from NASA’s annual budget requests:

    Fiscal SLS Budget
    Year $M
    2011 1536.1
    2012 1497.5
    2013 1414.9
    2014 1600.0
    Total 6048.5

    And we’re projected to spend over $7 billion more through SLS’s first launch on EM-1 in FY 2019 (November 2018 is in Fiscal Year 2019), assuming no more schedule delays in SLS or MPCV. All figures are the request or future-year estimates from NASA’s FY 2015 budget request:

    Fiscal SLS Budget
    Year $M
    2015 1380.3
    2016 1356.9
    2017 1353.8
    2018 1418.0
    2019 1526.9
    7035.9

    That’s a cost of over $13 billion total through SLS’s first launch, or more than twice what we spent to get two launch vehicle families in the EELV program and more than 26 times what we spent to get two new launch vehicles (and capsules) in the COTS program.

    What a sure-fire and timely bargain…

    • John Malkin

      In addition the launch vehicles and capsules are single use and cannot complete a BEO mission of substance on their own. At some point we will need an interplanetary ship/module for BEO.

      Making this ship/module re-usable and using lower cost launch options would be a far better way to spend our money. But this is obvious… except to the space committees. Of course they have their own agenda.

      The ironic thing is Sen. Nelson would be first in line to claim responsibility for commercial success. Sad.

  • Andrew Swallow

    If Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) wants to spend money on SLS he could spend it on developing mission hardware. KSC gets little from SLS development, it gains from actual launches. Launches need payloads.

    • Hiram

      Well, there is a lot of pad, launch control, and transport & handling development done at KSC that gets charged to SLS. Also, long term support for these things don’t really need launches to happen. You’d be amazed how much it costs just to keep a cold pad operational.

      But yes, Nelson seems to be concentrating on only half of the picture. His could be a “build it and they will come” premise.

    • James

      Regarding Payloads:

      If you were Grunsfeld, and you knew SLS was going to be cancelled, would you spend a single dime of your $5B budget on a payload? Of course not.

      This is why you don’t see any money being spent on developing something to fly atop SLS (other than Orion). Everyone knows, but isn’t saying: “We know SLS is a dead dog in 2016, so we aren’t wasting our money to develop a payload that would get cancelled”

      • Hiram

        SMD can’t come close to affording an SLS payload. A 50mT science instrument? Holy moley.
        But that’s exactly right. Grunsfeld can read the tea leaves and see that he doesn’t want to be part of SLS. Now, when Congress tells NASA that a Europa mission needs to use an SLS, that’s when Grunsfeld starts getting worried.

        Nelson’s “build it and they will come” hasn’t even identified who “they” are.

  • Egad

    Any insights on the timing of this announcement? It seemed to come out of the blue, a media advisory being issued a little before 11 AM and giving the media until 3 PM to sign up for the 4 PM teleconference. Were there any previous indications that it was coming up?

    http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/august/nasa-holds-teleconference-today-to-discuss-
    progress-on-world-s-largest-rocket/

    [Page info says “Modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:56:53 AM]

    NASA Holds Teleconference Today to Discuss Progress on World’s Largest Rocket
    August 27, 2014
    MEDIA ADVISORY M14-142

    NASA officials will hold a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EDT today to discuss the agency’s progress on the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars.

    Note that KDP-C wasn’t mentioned until the teleconference itself, though the press release about the conference has a timestamp of 2:20 PM.

    http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/august/nasa-completes-key-review-of-world-s-most-
    powerful-rocket-in-support-of-journey-to/
    [Page info says “Modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 2:20:25 PM”]

    NASA Completes Key Review of World’s Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars
    August 27, 2014
    RELEASE 14-229

    NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) — the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars — and approved the program’s progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.

    [snip]

    This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness
    schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.

    • Egad

      > Any insights on the timing of this announcement? It seemed to come out of the blue…

      Well, that didn’t take long. The key insights are named Smith and Palazzo.

  • Congress already blaming Obama while demanding more money for SLS:

    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/Letters/082714_CSP_CLS_letter.pdf

    Let’s see, under Constitution, who determines SLS funding? Oh right, Congress.

    It was Bill Nelson in 2011 who told NASA they had to “follow the law” and build SLS with the funding Congress provided, never mind the Booz Allen Hamilton review which said it wasn’t enough money.

    Congress orders the Monster Rocket. Congress underfunds the Monster Rocket. Congress blames Obama. Just another typical day on the Hill.

    • Hiram

      The NASA 2010 Authorization bill, which this letter refers to as the demonstration of congresssional commitment to SLS, poses a “goal” of operational capability of the core elements for December 2016. OK, we’re way, way past meeting that “goal”. Congress has known about not meeting that “goal” for a long time.

      So now Smith and Palazzo are freaking out that we might not even make 2018. Looks to me that while the President is (somewhat reluctantly) “committed” to SLS, he really isn’t committed to doing it on any particular timescale. Congress should have considered that when they passed the auth bill. If they needed SLS by 2018, they should have said so.

      • common sense

        I think the President is “committed” in such a way that as long as it does not bother him then we can play with our toys for the time being.

        The President is probably more committed to Commercial Space in comparison.

        And all of that in comparison with ongoing world and domestic issues is only noise.

        Commercial Space might be bigger since it is creating jobs in a high tech industry and that would probably be on his radar but considering Congress reaction…

        • Jim Nobles

          I don’t claim to know what the President is thinking but it may be something along these lines, “I’ve had enough of this space cadet bologna. I did what I could to get NASA pointed in a better direction using commercial space. I tried but failed to kill that Constellation/SLS parasite and that’s unfortunate but I guess the next poor S.O.B that gets this job will have to deal with that. Now, on to things much more immediate and arguably much more important.”

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    I seem to recall the Augustine Report giving a number of +$3B per year, every year to the NASA budget for Constellation to stay ‘on track’. Given its similar nature and goals, I can’t see SLS being much cheaper in the long run. They might be able to flatten the increase a bit because SLS has a much slower development path but still…

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Another SLS fact and related figures…

    Despite all the rhetoric about human Mars missions being the ultimate goal for SLS, SLS can’t do that mission, at least not the way that NASA has defined that mission.

    NASA’s last Mars Design Reference Mission (DRM) required its HLV to deliver 850 or 1,250 tons to LEO, depending on whether the mission relied on nuclear-thermal propulsion (849t IMLEO) or chemical propulsion and aerocapture at Mars (1252t IMLEO). Here’s what that translates to in terms of number of launches required for different SLS variants:

    Required SLS Launches for Mars DRM 5.0
    SLS Variant: 70t 105t 130t
    849t IMLEO: 12 launches 8 launches 7 launches
    1252t IMLEO: 18 launches 12 launches 10 launches

    So in the best case in the upper right, a nuclear-thermal mission (849t IMLEO) relying on the future, 130t version of SLS will require 7 SLS launches.

    At the existing SLS launch rate of one every four years, it would take 28 years to field this mission. And even if SLS achieves its goal of one launch every two years, it would still take 14 years to field this mission. Unfortunately, NASA’s Mars DRM 5.0 requires all mission elements to be launched in under 26 months, not 168 to 336 months. SLS capabilities are ridiculously short of what NASA requires to field a human Mars mission.

    NASA’s Mars DRM 5.0 also advocates three missions every decade. That triples the requirements above:

    Required SLS Launches for Mars DRM 5.0 Over One Decade
    SLS Variant: 70t 105t 130t
    2546t IMLEO: 36 launches 24 launches 20 launches
    3755t IMLEO: 54 launches 36 launches 29 launches

    So in the best case in the upper right, three nuclear-thermal missions (2546t IMLEO) relying on the future, 130t version of SLS will require 20 SLS launches over a decade.

    But at the existing SLS launch rate of one every four years, SLS will launch only twice (or two-and-a-half times) per decade. And even if SLS achieves its goal of one launch every two years, SLS will launch only 5 times per decade. Again, SLS capabilities are ridiculously short of what NASA requires to field a human Mars campaign.

    These cases get even worse if you assume the 70t version of SLS that NASA is actually developing.

    If our goal is humans-to-Mars, why are we spending $13+ billion on a launch vehicle that is woefully incapable of meeting that goal?

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I’ve long thought that the CxP-era DRMs were deliberately up-sized to justify Ares-V’s tremendous lifting power.

      Don’t forget that, with DRM-5, we’re talking about two distinct launch campaigns. First, four cargo launches for the uncrewed precursors (one launch window or ~18 months ahead of the crew launch). The rest of the launches in a year leading up to the crew’s departure for Mars. Six or so cargo and two crew launches (one assembly and one mission crew). It was doable, assuming a budget and core production rate that supported a shuttle-light flight rate of 6+ flights a year.

      That said, I’m awaiting a DRM-6 based on the Boeing flexible path suggestion. That would be solar-electric powered and would probably only require 3 or 4 launches for the crew vehicle. It would be nice if NASA were to give Mars more than lip service by actually doing a study to see if Boeing’s EML-Lunar Surface-Phobos-Martian Surface plan is actually doable.

    • Vladislaw

      Dark Blue Nine wrote:

      “Required SLS Launches for Mars DRM 5.0
      SLS Variant: 70t
      849t IMLEO: 12 launches
      1252t IMLEO: 18 launches”

      Lets through sanity out the window for a minute….

      Boeing can build two cores a year, as I understand it, at 2.8 billion a year. Let us also assume that NASA can actually launch twice per year.

      It would take 6 years for the 849t IMLEO and nine years, or two Presidential Administrations for the 1252t IMLEO.

      Now .. How much, just spit balling here, would it cost to launch twice a year plus all the new and currently undeveloped hardware? 7-10 billion a year?

      This is insanity on a bun to even consider. Those kind of costs would never get funding in the first place.

  • I’ve posted on YouTube the audio of the telecon if you want to listen:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNkB2k9pCSQ

  • Congratulations to the SLS team for great progress.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      Yes, great progress in slipping SLS another year and being totally unaware of the slipping schedule all the way up to the PM!

      With progress like this, who needs project delays?

      Or unaware, out-of-touch PMs in self-denial?

      Onwards to the next delay!

      • common sense

        Ah come on! They made real great progress. It only took them what 2 or 3 weeks to realize that they were late by 1 year or 2. Then of course it took them several years to get to that point…

        Oh well…

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Was that post meant to be ironic or something?

  • josh

    sls is dead, some people just haven’t realized it yet. there will be more slips ofc and it will never get to the launchpad.

  • vulture4

    Has anyone tried contacting Nelson (or his space legislative assistant) directly?

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