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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday October 31 2018, @05:20AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the needs-the-walmart-treatment dept.

SLS contractor gets real, says program needs to focus on "affordability"

For the most part, the presentations [at the American Astronautical Society's Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium] went as usual for these kinds of events—corporate vice presidents talking about the progress they were making on this or that component of the rocket and spacecraft. Although the Space Launch System rocket is going to launch three years later than originally planned, and its program is over budget and was recently admitted by NASA's own inspector to be poorly managed, you would not have known it from these presentations.

However, one panelist did offer a warning of sorts to his colleagues. Former astronaut and Vice President and General Manager of Propulsion for Northrop Grumman Charlie Precourt spoke about his company's contributions to the rocket (Northrop Grumman recently acquired Orbital ATK). They are building the large, solid rocket boosters that will provide a kick off the launch pad. Yet Precourt prefaced his update with a message about affordability—as the exploration program moves from development into operations with the first flight of SLS and Orion in 2020 or so, costs must come down, he said.

[...] "We have to execute, but we also have to be planning for the future in terms of survivability, sustainability, and affordability," Precourt said. "I used all three of those words intentionally about this program. We've got to make sure we've got our mindset on affordability, and I don't think it's too early for all of us on this panel, as well as our counterparts at NASA, to start thinking about that."

[...] Precourt said contractors should consider a future in which NASA's present multibillion expenditures on rocket development costs need to be cut in half in order for the SLS vehicle to have a robust future. "All of us need to be thinking about [how] our annual budget for this will not be what it is in development," he said. "That's a very serious problem that we have to look forward to, and to try to rectify, so that we are sustainable."

If the other speakers had thoughts about Precourt's comments, they did not share them during the ensuing discussion.

Related: NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
There's a New Report on SLS Rocket Management, and It's Pretty Brutal
Damage Control: Boeing-Sponsored Newsletter Praises Space Launch System (SLS), Trashes Saturn V


Original Submission

Related Stories

NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines 19 comments

NASA could use an engine developed by Blue Origin instead of the four RL-10 engines currently used by the Space Launch System (SLS):

[One] problem with legacy hardware, built by traditional contractors such as Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne, is that it's expensive. And while NASA has not released per-flight estimates of the expendable SLS rocket's cost, conservative estimates peg it at $1.5 to $2.5 billion per launch. The cost is so high that it effectively precludes more than one to two SLS launches per year.

[...] [The RL-10] engines, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are also costly. (Ars understands that NASA paid an average of $17 million for each RL-10 engine for the maiden Exploration Upper Stage vehicle). So in October, to power the EUS, the space agency issued a request for information to the aerospace community for "a low cost drop-in replacement engine to minimize program cost." According to the document, the initial set of four engines would be needed in mid-2023 to prepare for the third flight of the SLS rocket, known as Exploration Mission-3.

Then, after an extension of the deadline for responses beyond mid-November, NASA revised the RFI on December 1. The revised document no longer seeks a "drop-in replacement" for the RL-10 engine, rather it asks for a "low-cost replacement engine." Although this seems like a subtle change, sources within the aerospace industry indicated to Ars that it is significant. According to NASA, it was done to increase the number of responses.

[...] That would probably include Blue Origin's BE-3U engine, which the company plans to use for its upper stage on the New Glenn heavy lift rocket. This is a modified version of the BE-3 engine that powers the New Shepard rocket, which has now flown successfully seven times. Blue Origin has previously marketed the BE-3U to Orbital ATK for its Next Generation Launch System, which is looking for an upper stage engine. A single BE-3U provides about 120,000 pounds of thrust, which exceeds the 100,000 pounds of thrust provided by four RL-10 engines.

Just cancel SLS and give that money to SpaceX, Blue Origin, or anybody willing to launch competitively.

Related: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
Commercial Space Companies Want More Money From NASA
Trump Space Adviser: Mars "Too Ambitious" and SLS is a Strategic National Asset
Boeing CEO Says His Company Will Carry Humans to Mars Before SpaceX
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1


Original Submission

NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview 4 comments

Rocket Report: Japanese rocket blows up, NASA chief ponders purpose of SLS (and other news)

NASA Administrator ponders what to do with the SLS rocket. During a Q&A with Politico, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was asked about how the space agency views commercial launch vehicles. His response: "As we move forward, we're going to have to maybe rethink... at what point do we start taking advantage of those commercial capabilities to the extent that they drive down cost, give us more capability, and what do we do with SLS?... We're not there yet, but certainly there's a horizon here. Is it 10 years? I don't know what the answer is, but what we can't do in my view is give up our government capability, our national capability, when we don't have an alternative."

Speaking of timelines ... NASA doesn't exactly have the "national capability" of the SLS rocket yet in the heavy-lift class, either. We've heard rumors of a slip to 2021 for the first launch date, in which case Blue Origin's New Glenn has a fighting chance to fly first, as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has already done.

Blue Origin targets Moon landing by 2023. Blue Origin's business development director, A.C. Charania, said at a conference that the company's Blue Moon program is "our first step to developing a lunar landing capability for the country, for other customers internationally, to be able to land multi metric tons on the lunar surface." The company has not said what role its large orbital rocket under development, New Glenn, would play in a mission to the Moon.

BFR is a privately funded next-generation reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft system developed by SpaceX. It was announced by Elon Musk in September 2017.[8][9] The overall space vehicle architecture includes both launch vehicles and spacecraft that are intended to completely replace all of SpaceX's existing space hardware by the early 2020s as well as ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch, and zero-gravity propellant transfer technology to be deployed in low Earth orbit (LEO). The large payload to Earth orbit of up to 150,000 kg (330,000 lb) makes BFR a super heavy-lift launch vehicle. Manufacture of the first upper stage/spacecraft prototype began by March 2018, and the ship is projected to begin testing in early 2019.[5]

Related: First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
NASA Could Scale Down First Manned Flight of the SLS
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Serious About Returning to the Moon
Jeff Bezos Details Moon Settlement Ambitions in Interview
This Week in Space Pessimism: SLS, Mars, and Lunar Gateway


Original Submission

There's a New Report on SLS Rocket Management, and It's Pretty Brutal 66 comments

There's a New Report on Space Launch System (SLS) Rocket Management, and It's Pretty Brutal:

Boeing has been building the core stage of NASA's Space Launch System rocket for the better part of this decade, and the process has not always gone smoothly, with significant overruns and multiyear delays. A new report from NASA's inspector general makes clear just how badly the development process has gone, laying the blame mostly at the feet of Boeing.

"We found Boeing's poor performance is the main reason for the significant cost increases and schedule delays to developing the SLS core stage," the report, signed by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, states. "Specifically, the project's cost and schedule issues stem primarily from management, technical, and infrastructure issues directly related to Boeing's performance."

As of August 2018, the report says, NASA has spent a total of $11.9 billion on the SLS. Even so, the rocket's critical core stage will be delivered more than three years later than initially planned—at double the anticipated cost. Overall, there are a number of top-line findings in this report, which cast a mostly if not completely negative light on Boeing and, to a lesser extent, NASA and its most expensive spaceflight project.

Schedule slips

The report found that NASA will need to spend an additional $1.2 billion, on top of its existing $6.2 billion contract for the core stages of the first two SLS rockets, to reach a maiden launch date of June 2020. NASA originally planned to launch the SLS rocket on its maiden flight in November 2017.

However, given all of the development problems that the SLS rocket has seen, the report does not believe a mid-2020 date is likely either. "In light of the project's development delays, we have concluded NASA will be unable to meet its EM-1 launch window currently scheduled between December 2019 and June 2020," the report states.

Damage Control: Boeing-Sponsored Newsletter Praises Space Launch System (SLS), Trashes Saturn V 29 comments

Elon Musk pegs SpaceX BFR program at $5B as NASA's rocket booster nears $5B in cost overruns

[Compared] to Boeing's first serious 2014 contract for the SLS Core Stages – $4.2B to complete Core Stages 1 and 2 and launch EM-1 in Nov. 2017 – the company will ultimately end up 215% over-budget ($4.2B to $8.9B) and ~40 months behind schedule (42 months to 80+ months from contract award to completion). Meanwhile, as OIG notes, NASA has continued to give Boeing impossibly effusive and glowing performance reviews to the tune of $323 million in "award fees", with grades that would – under the contracting book NASA itself wrote – imply that Boeing SLS Core Stage work has been reliably under budget and ahead of schedule (it's not).

[...] Boeing – recently brought to light as the likely source of a spate of egregiously counterfactual op-eds published with the intention of dirtying SpaceX's image – also took it upon itself to sponsor what could be described as responses to NASA OIG's scathing October 10th SLS audit. Hilariously, a Politico newsletter sponsored by Boeing managed to explicitly demean and belittle the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket as a "rickety metal bucket built with 1960s technology", of which Boeing was very tenuously involved thanks to its eventual acquisition of companies that actually built Saturn and sent humans to the Moon.

At the same time, that newsletter described SLS as a rocket that will be "light years ahead of thespacecraft [sic] that NASA astronauts used to get to the moon 50 years ago." At present, the only clear way SLS is or will be "light years" ahead – as much a measure of time as it is of distance – of Saturn V is by continuing the rocket's trend of endless delays. Perhaps NASA astronomers will soon be able to judge exactly how many "light years ahead" SLS is by measuring the program's redshift or blueshift with one of several ground- and space-based telescopes.

Here's a typical Boeing shill response (archive) to the NASA Inspector General report.

See also: Will the US waste $100+ billion on SLS, Orion and LOP-G by 2030?

Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019 (now delayed to June 2020, likely 2021)
First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
There's a New Report on SLS Rocket Management, and It's Pretty Brutal


Original Submission

White House Budget Request Would Move Launches from SLS to Commercial Providers 49 comments

NASA budget proposal targets SLS (Space Launch System)

The White House's fiscal year 2020 budget request for NASA proposes to delay work on an upgraded version of the Space Launch System and would transfer some of that vehicle's payloads to other rockets.

The proposal, released by the Office of Management and Budget March 11, offers a total of $21 billion for the space agency, a decrease of $500 million over what Congress appropriated in the final fiscal year 2019 spending bill signed into law Feb. 15.

A major element of the proposal is to defer work on the Block 1B version of the SLS, which would increase the rocket's performance by replacing its existing Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage with the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. The budget "instead focuses the program on the completion of the initial version of the SLS and supporting a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence," the OMB budget stated. The first SLS/Orion mission, without a crew, is now planned for the "early 2020s," according to the budget, an apparent slip from the planned 2020 launch of Exploration Mission 1.

NASA had previously planned to use the Block 1B version of SLS to launch elements of its lunar Gateway, using a "co-manifesting" capability enabled by the rocket's greater performance. Instead, according to the budget document, those components will be launched on "competitively procured vehicles, complementing crew transport flights on the SLS and Orion."

[...] The budget proposal would also remove one non-exploration payload from the SLS manifest. The proposal offers $600 million for the Europa Clipper mission, enabling a launch in 2023. However, NASA would instead seek to launch the mission on a commercial launch vehicle rather than SLS, a move it claims "would save over $700 million, allowing multiple new activities to be funded across the Agency." The fiscal year 2019 budget request also proposed a commercial launch of Europa Clipper, but Congress placed into law in the final funding bill the requirement to use SLS for that mission.

Are we nearing a good timeline?

Related: After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Northrop Grumman Exec Warns of Coming "Affordability" in the Space Launch System's Future
Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA
When Space Science Becomes a Political Liability


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by mhajicek on Wednesday October 31 2018, @05:27AM (2 children)

    by mhajicek (51) on Wednesday October 31 2018, @05:27AM (#755937)

    Too little too late.

    --
    The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31 2018, @07:07AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31 2018, @07:07AM (#755949)

      As she said above.

    • (Score: 2) by Hyperturtle on Wednesday October 31 2018, @02:08PM

      by Hyperturtle (2824) on Wednesday October 31 2018, @02:08PM (#756002)

      I can't tell if it is funny that it is considered to be dangerous to also be affordable.

      I guess it does act as a threat to their bottom line, if they can no longer skim so easily from the top.

      One gets fat on skimming that cream which rises to the surface--but without also skimming for scum, it can make someone sick.

      Being sick, and also fat and lazy from not having to work so hard... doesn't end well, even if fat and sassy for a long time prior to the inevitable problems.

      I think he's admitting that the business is starting to feel ill about the prospects ahead of them.

  • (Score: 2) by esperto123 on Wednesday October 31 2018, @11:34AM (3 children)

    by esperto123 (4303) on Wednesday October 31 2018, @11:34AM (#755977)

    Don't throw out the rocket after every launch, this will greatly reduce the costs, but I doubt they would do that, first because it would require a big redesign of a already very late, very over budget rocket, and second because they see reducing costs by avoiding building new rockets as shooting their own foot.

    If nasa and the other US agencies have any regard for their own budget, they would ditch ULA and the like and fully go with spaceX and blue origin (in the future).

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday October 31 2018, @11:51AM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday October 31 2018, @11:51AM (#755982) Journal

      ULA, one of the contractors, is working on a partially reusable rocket, Vulcan [wikipedia.org]. Well, the first stage is partially reusable. It jettisons the engines so that they can be caught by helicopters. And this entire feature may be developed.

      It's a race against time now. How many billions will we have to waste on SLS before it can be cancelled? No less than $20 billion, probably.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday October 31 2018, @11:52AM (1 child)

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday October 31 2018, @11:52AM (#755983) Journal

        I meant to say "How many more billions"

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        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday October 31 2018, @04:46PM

          by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday October 31 2018, @04:46PM (#756056)

          The people working for ULA, its subcontractors, local businesses, and German luxury yacht manufacturers, don't consider that money to be wasted.
          The fact that the rest of us see no benefit for that spending is kinda common in pork spending.
          The opportunity cost for NASA is where it hurts.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01 2018, @12:03PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01 2018, @12:03PM (#756418)

    "We've got to make sure we've got our mindset on affordability"

    In accountant speak this translates into:

    "We have done an internal review of our books, and there is NO WAY we survive an audit. So now we are going to pretend to be fiscally responsible in public and hope nobody notices."

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