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posted by martyb on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:27AM   Printer-friendly
from the How-many-Falcon-Heavy-launches-would-that-buy? dept.

Congress has given NASA $350 million for a second mobile launcher for the Space Launch System:

The problem stems from the fact that NASA's current mobile launch platform wasn't actually built for the SLS. NASA has been modifying a platform that was originally built for a rocket that never saw the light of day — the Ares 1, a vehicle that was meant to send humans back to the Moon as part of the now-canceled Constellation program. When the Constellation program was replaced with the SLS program in 2011, NASA decided to simply upgrade the mobile launch platform the agency had already built for Ares 1 to support the Space Launch System. The SLS is a much bigger and heavier vehicle than the Ares 1 was going to be, so NASA has had to reinforce the base of the platform, as well as expand it to accommodate the larger size of the rocket and its engines.

[...] Now, Congress is telling NASA to build a second platform, likely due to safety concerns. Building the new platform could potentially move the second flight of SLS up to 2022 instead of 2023. Otherwise, having such a huge gap between the first and second flight of the rocket could cause engineers to forget the valuable experience they gained from flying the rocket the first time. "When that happens, you have all the people — in your ground systems and in mission control — you have them sitting around for months at a time with nothing to do," Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society, tells The Verge. "And in the absence of real rocket launches, you might lose good people."

But another unofficial motivation could be optics. Further delays would be a bad look for the perennially delayed SLS program. The first flight of the SLS has been consistently pushed back — from 2018, to 2019, and then to 2020. And even when the first two flights of the vehicle are done, the rocket will probably only launch once a year.

Contrary to a Trump administration NASA budget proposal, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) has received additional funding:

Lawmakers provided $150 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, which the Trump administration proposed canceling last month. Set for launch in the mid-2020s, WFIRST would be next in NASA's line of big observatories in space after Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope. It was the top priority for NASA's astrophysics program in a National Academy of Sciences decadal survey released in 2010. The agency's policy is to follow cues from the science community encapsulated in the decadal survey reports.

Agency managers last year were wary that WFIRST could exceed its $3.2 billion cost cap, and Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science directorate, in October ordered a team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland — home of the WFIRST project office — to study how the mission could be modified to fit under the budget limit.

Officials drafting NASA's budget request for fiscal 2019 decided WFIRST was too expensive, but the mission has enjoyed strong support from Congress. In an apparent reference to WFIRST's proposed termination, lawmakers wrote that they "reject the cancellation of scientific priorities recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal survey process."

Previously: Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
Leaning Tower of NASA

Original Submission

Related Stories

Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST 16 comments

A Trump administration budget proposal would cancel NASA's flagship-class Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) as well as several Earth science related telescopes, as it focuses on the Space Launch System, Orion, and sending astronauts to an orbital space station around the Moon:

The Trump administration has released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 and put dozens of federal programs on the chopping block, including a brand-new NASA space telescope that scientists say would provide the biggest picture of the universe yet, with the same sparkling clarity as the Hubble Space Telescope. The proposal, released Monday, recommends eliminating the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), citing "higher priorities" at NASA and the cost of the new telescope.

"Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the administration," the proposal states. "The budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research."

Although the Trump administration wants to end funding of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, it envisions private companies picking up the slack:

"The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform," according to a draft summary of NASA's ISS Transition Report required by Congress in the agency's 2017 Authorization Act.

Leaning Tower of NASA 32 comments

NASA's nearly billion-dollar mobile launcher tower for the Space Launch System (SLS) is leaning, and may be discarded after a single use:

[The "mobile launcher" component] supports the testing and servicing of the massive SLS rocket, as well as moving it to the launch pad and providing a platform from which it will launch.

According to a new report in, the expensive tower is "leaning" and "bending." For now, NASA says, the lean is not sufficient enough to require corrective action, but it is developing contingency plans in case the lean angle becomes steeper.

These defects raise concerns about the longevity of the launch tower and increase the likelihood that NASA will seek additional funding to build a second one. In fact, it is entirely possible that the launch tower may serve only for the maiden flight of the SLS rocket in 2020 and then be cast aside. This would represent a significant waste of resources by the space agency.

[...] [From] the tower's inception in 2009, NASA will have spent $912 million on the mobile launcher it may use for just a single launch of the SLS rocket. Moreover, the agency will have required eight years to modify a launch tower it built in two years.

The second mobile launcher, intended for larger versions of the SLS, will cost about $300 million (if not more).

Related: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
Trump Space Adviser: Mars "Too Ambitious" and SLS is a Strategic National Asset
NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?

Original Submission

NASA Could Scale Down First Manned Flight of the SLS 1 comment

Exploration Mission 2 using the Space Launch System was originally planned to launch using the Block 1B version, which includes the Exploration Upper Stage and can carry 105 metric tons (105,000 kg) to to low-Earth orbit. Now that Congress has given NASA additional money for a second SLS mobile launcher, the agency has the ability to fly astronauts on the smaller Block 1 version of SLS, capable of lifting 70 metric tons to LEO:

The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA's main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew — a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won't be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. "If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can't do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS]," Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday [2h15m22s video].

[...] Meanwhile, it's also possible that the second flight of the SLS won't carry crew at all. NASA also needs to launch its upcoming mission to Jupiter's moon Europa pretty soon. Known as Europa Clipper, the mission is mandated by Congress to fly on the SLS by 2022. Lightfoot mentioned that Europa Clipper could come before the first crewed flight of the SLS. It just depends on if the Orion crew capsule, which will carry astronauts on the SLS, is ready before Europa Clipper is ready. If the Europa spacecraft comes first, then it could also fly on the small Block 1 rocket.

The trans-lunar injection (TLI) payload capacity for SLS Block 1B is 39.2 metric tons, enough to carry a ~25.9 ton crewed Orion capsule with an 8-10 ton component of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), as was the original plan for Exploration Mission 2. Block 1 cannot accomplish these two tasks at the same time. Perhaps they should launch LOP-G using Falcon Heavy instead?

Original Submission

House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted 15 comments

House spending bill offers $21.5 billion for NASA in 2019

A House appropriations bill released May 8 offers more than $21.5 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2019, a significant increase over both what the agency received in 2018 and what the White House proposed for 2019.

While there is no mention of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) or the possibility of raising the James Webb Space Telescope's $8 billion spending cap, there is plenty of money for a Europa mission (a favorite of Rep. John Culberson) and continued development of the Space Launch System (SLS):

The bill, though, does specify funding for some programs. It calls for spending $545 million on the Europa Clipper mission and $195 million for a follow-on lander. NASA requested only $264.7 million for Europa Clipper and nothing for the lander. NASA said in the budget proposal it was seeking to launch Europa Clipper in 2025 on a commercial vehicle, while the bill calls for the use of the Space Launch System and a launch by 2022. In its budget proposal, NASA estimated needing $565 million in 2019 to keep Europa Clipper on track for a 2022 launch but warned of "potential impacts to the rest of the Science portfolio" if funded at that level.

The bill includes $1.35 billion for Orion and $2.15 billion for SLS, the same funding those exploration programs received in 2018. NASA requested slightly less for each: $1.164 billion for Orion and $2.078 billion for SLS. The bill fully funds the administration's request for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, at $504 million in 2019.

WFIRST was given $150 million in a 2018 omnibus spending bill, staving off its possible cancellation, but its future may still be in peril due to JWST delays:

Congress, in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, provided $150 million for WFIRST, which many interpreted as a rebuke to the administration's proposal even though Congress had yet to take up the 2019 budget. However, Congress passed the 2018 omnibus spending bill just days before NASA revealed another delay, and potential cost overrun, for JWST, complicating the future of WFIRST.

As with PACE, work on WFIRST is continuing for 2018 as the appropriations process for 2019 plays out in Congress. The mission's next major review, for Key Decision Point B, is scheduled for May 22, which will allow it go into Phase B of its development.

"We were funded fully through FY '18," said Jeff Kruk, WFIRST project scientist, at the Space Studies Board meeting May 3. "We have to be ready to proceed should Congress decide to continue funding the mission. The only way we will meet the cost cap is if we stay on schedule."

Original Submission

WFIRST Approved for Development by NASA Despite Possible Cancellation 10 comments

WFIRST, proposed for cancellation, is approved for development

NASA has approved a major astrophysics mission to go into the next phase of its development even as the administration seeks once again to cancel it.

NASA announced March 2 that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) has passed a review known as Key Decision Point C, which confirms development plans for the mission and allows it to move into full-scale hardware production and testing.

That milestone is when the agency also sets a baseline cost and schedule commitment for the mission. NASA said in its statement about the review that the mission would cost $3.2 billion through its launch, a cost cap previously set by NASA. The cost when including five years of science operations, as well as a coronagraph instrument deemed a technology demonstration by NASA, increases to $3.934 billion.

However, NASA did not announce a launch date for the mission because its fiscal year 2021 budget request proposes to cancel WFIRST. "The Administration is not ready to proceed with another multi-billion-dollar telescope until Webb has been successfully launched and deployed," NASA said in its statement, a reference to the James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in March 2021. NASA used the same statement in its 2021 budget request to explain why it sought no funding for the mission.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
NASA Gets Money it Didn't Ask for to Fund Second SLS Mobile Launcher; WFIRST Mission Receives Funds
Launch of James Webb Space Telescope Delayed Again, This Time to March 2021, Cost at $9.66 Billion
NASA Administrator at House Hearing: WFIRST Could be Delayed to Help Pay for JWST

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:19AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:19AM (#659421)

    More borrowing. More devaluing the dollar for the common man.

    The U.S.G. is bankrupt.

    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:20AM

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:20AM (#659445) Journal

      More borrowing. More devaluing the dollar for the common man.

      As long as the oil is priced in petrodollars, US has large limits to play within - print more more, sooner or later the Saudis will export enough oil to balance the value.
      It will be interesting when the adoption of petro-euros and petro-yuans will start to be significant enough - playing protectionism and starting trade-war doesn't help delaying these times. Weaning from liquid dinosaurs does the same.

  • (Score: 0, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:16AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:16AM (#659444)

    More borrowing. More devaluing the dollar for the common man.

    The U.S.G. is bankrupt./div?

    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:24AM

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:24AM (#659447) Journal

      Do you realize that, if the USD falls below yuan, the entire China will outsource its manufacturing to US?
      Even the Indians will start creating H1Bs to bring there US IT professionals.


  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by FakeBeldin on Wednesday March 28 2018, @01:24PM

    by FakeBeldin (3360) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @01:24PM (#659482) Journal

    I'm curious: is there a good reason to earmark budget for specific projects, instead of awarding NASA a lump sum and let NASA figure out what to do, what to postpone and what to never start?

    Some thoughts:
    - Many projects are multi-year projects that go over time and budget - you might want to protect other projects from the needs of the troublesome projects.
    - (cynical view) this way, congressmen can make sure that each project leads to money spent in their state.

    Curious to hear more.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 28 2018, @01:27PM (11 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @01:27PM (#659485) Journal

    SLS is a huge waste of money that could have been used to build a badly needed wall. For the last ten years of SLS development, we could almost have paid for the great wall. A beautiful wall. I promise. The best wall. And trust me. I know my walls. A classy, beautiful wall.

    Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 28 2018, @01:28PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @01:28PM (#659488) Journal

      I'll just add something that is probably not obvious to most people.

      All the money that the government has to do these great projects like SLS and The Wall . . .

      All the government's money, is OUR money!

      But they don't act like it.

      Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
    • (Score: 1) by Sulla on Wednesday March 28 2018, @02:43PM

      by Sulla (5173) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @02:43PM (#659531) Journal

      Given the ROI on the SLS so far and what we are likely to get for it in the future the wall might actually have been a better investment. This is not intended to show how great the wall is.

      Ceterum censeo Sinae esse delendam
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by eravnrekaree on Wednesday March 28 2018, @02:43PM (1 child)

      by eravnrekaree (555) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @02:43PM (#659532)

      The comparison to the wall is not apt. The wall is necessary for the national security of the United States as a part of a comprehensive border security system that also involves border guards. The point of the wall is to cause it to take more time to cross the border, since they have to try to climb over the thing, which gives border control agents more time to respond. The wall will have an electronic survellience system so they know where attempted crossing are occurring. Walls are proven to work in other areas such as in Israel, where the wall has reduced the number of violent incidents in Israel greatly. Israel used to have security incident much more often than now. So if you think walls wont work, tell that to Israel, and they laugh at you.

      Given that drugs are being smuggled across the border, illegal aliens are stealing jobs from Americans and depressing wages, and that violent gangs from Mexico such as MS-13 are coming in, building the wall is a national security imperative. The wall will save over decades trillions of dollars. The estimated cost of illegal immigration on taxpayers is approximately $120 billion per year, more than twice the construction cost of the wall, over a decade thats over a trillion dollars. Ironically, by reducing the growth of the welfare system partly due to illegal aliens getting welfare payments via anchor babies, we will have more money available for our space program. So it will save us money in the long run. In fact the wall will pay for itself quickly as a part of a mass deportation program to remove illegal aliens from the country and to end birthright citizenship.

      SLS isnt strongly related to national security since many other launch platforms exist, and since it is more expensive than Space X technology so it ends up leaving less money for the more effective and less costly programs. SLS being retained is actually a huge disappointment. The whole thing is a huge pork barrel wasteful spending, and the entire program should be cancelled. Instead, we should rely on an array of COTS providers instead including SpaceX BFR and BlueOrigin. The fact is there are many in NASA who want SLS cancelled and want SpaceX technology be used instead, because many in NASA do want the agency to be able to do the things it should be doing which is peering deeper into the universe and carrying out its science missions, rather than the money in the Federal budget being tied up in the SLS pork swamp.

      SLS actually is a huge waste of money, some estimates are at $1 billion per launch. SpaceX can do the job for far less with the BFR, plus we should fund other concepts like BlueOrigin. SLS is a redux of the Shuttle program, which set the US space program back decades. The concept never worked properly, the technology was costly, expensive to maintain. SLS is no different, SLS uses old shuttle technology as if to keep the wasteful bloat going. Clearly pork cronyism at its worst. With the limited amount of money that it is willing to be commited to space funding in the US budget, we need to make sure that this money is used in a way to give us the most bang for our buck.

      SLS does not give us the most bang for our buck, being a very expensive and wasteful technology to do a job that can be done much more cheaply by nearly everyone else, including the Europeans, the Russians, Space X, Blue Origin, etc.

      NASA needs to get out of the rocket business and use COTS technology for its launches. Under the shuttle much of the space program ended up being consumed by the launch platform rather than what you launch on it. It was driven more by unrealistic science fiction than actual practical science missions. NASA needs to focus on what you launch on rockets, science programs, rather than on rockets themselves. The bureaucratic entrenchment was such that the program sort of gained a life of its own even though it was consuming vastly more money than originally intended and was a failure at doing what it was originally claimed to do. It was the most expensive launch system rather than being the space truck it was sold as.

      SLS is called Senate Launch System mainly becuase its a kickback to Shelby's Alabama where the thing is built. The procurement process allows for little innovation, its basically a big bloated government project where you cannot think out of the box or change trajectory. So, you can't find cheaper and more reliable ways to do this, your stuck with an old technology you cannot change in a significant way. It goes like this "here are some dusty old plans form the Shuttle program, they are very expensive to build are proven to consume vast amounts of money. They are proven to be unreliable and difficult to maintain. Use these to build an expensive rocket that will cause $1 billion to launch". No room for a fresh design or out of the box thinking because you are hemmed in on a set design pattern.

      COTS procurement allows more flexibility and out of the box thinking, since it says to companies, develop a launch platform that can get 150,000 kg to LEO, figure out the best and cheapest way to do it, then we will see who comes up with the cheapest, best design.

      • (Score: 2) by fritsd on Wednesday March 28 2018, @04:46PM

        by fritsd (4586) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @04:46PM (#659572) Journal

        120 billion?

        It was a bit difficult to read, but IIRC you are saying: give the IRS a budget to monitor and punish companies that hire illegal immigrants (e.g. force serious fines if they can't show the photocopy of their workers' identification document in their safe, like in the Netherlands), instead of building Trump's ridiculous wall, then you can launch 120 SLS rockets per year instead of 1, and by inference: you can instead launch literally hundreds of SpaceX Falcon Heavy and BFR's, assemble pairs of (1 booster + 1 payload) at the ISS (Δv 9 km/s out of say 14 km/s needed for Mars), and send them to Mars or Phobos or Ceres. Let's see: several automated methane and LOX factories for Mars and Ceres, Iron(II) Oxide and LOX only on the Moon and Phobos, interplanetary launch facilities on the Moon, Phobos and Ceres, a lander, several habitats, water smelting and purification plants on Mars and Ceres, hydroponics modules and fish farms, Mars-adapted Tesla cars, several solar photovoltaic energy plants, a few solar thermal energy plants for heat and metals smelting, Aluminium and Iron smelters on all those places, a Calcium smelter on Phobos and the Moon (for batteries), a glass factory, polyethylene platic factory on Mars and maybe Ceres, rocket factory on the Moon and maybe Ceres and Phobos, ships to capture small asteroids of all three types, a volatiles factory on Ceres, a humongous telescope on the dark side of the Moon (also useful to look for asteroids and comets rich in Boron and Hydrogen which the Moon hasn't got), a factory on the Moon to make large curved sheets of Aluminium to launch to an Moon-orbit solar thermal asteroid smelting facility (with a really big PVC "vacuum cleaner bag" for the volatiles), a LED growing light factory on the Moon, vacuum adapted silicon chip foundries on the Moon (suddenly extreme UV is not a problem anymore!), an Earth based technical university to study Lego, Containerization and Chemical Technology Upscaling, a Low Earth Orbit swimming pool with transparent glass walls on the nadir side, and a Chinese restaurant on the Moon.

        Yeah, go for it!

        It's easy to forget, how extremely rich the USA is, in land and resources. I think only Congo comes close.

    • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:00PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:00PM (#659538)

      Oh, Danny boy.

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 28 2018, @05:10PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @05:10PM (#659581) Journal

        Sorry. I am not realDonaldTrump. I didn't think of it first.

        Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @06:04PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @06:04PM (#659610)


    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:31PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:31PM (#659545)

      So you are the person behind realDonalTrump! Well done, sir!

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 28 2018, @05:11PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @05:11PM (#659582) Journal

        No. I am not. But I think I partly inspired it.

        Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
    • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:44PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @03:44PM (#659548)

      When the wall is finished can we line it with politicians?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:24PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:24PM (#659694)

        Blindfold them, and tell them there's going to be a surprise.