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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 12 2019, @02:07AM   Printer-friendly
from the Merlin,-Falcon-9,-and-Falcon-Heavy-were-developed-for-less-than-$1B-total dept.

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


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  • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:22AM (12 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:22AM (#813574)

    Keep in mind that the initial Starship will supposedly be a passenger vehicle that will be useless for launching serious payloads into orbit - that will have to wait until a later cargo version. Presumably most of the technology will transfer, but there will almost certainly be some additional lag before a split-fairing cargo version is available.

    There's also no guarantee that SpaceX will be more rapidly successful with the BFR than they were with the Falcon 9 - we can certainly hope, and they do have a lot more experience now, but the cost-per-failure is much higher now as well - a string of bad luck and they might have to slow way down to let their finances recover.

    If things go really well SpaceX could have SLS-class launch capability as early as next year. Or it might take another decade, and we'd wish we had the SLS.

    But it sounds like the proposal isn't to delay getting the SLS operational and available, just delaying the upgrades and cutting the guaranteed missions.

    And that suites me just fine. That increases the chance that we'll have at least one rocket available to get the job done, and (hopefully) free up some of NASA's available budget to put SpaceX launch capacity to work, rather than being chained to a much more expensive and limited SLS.

    Especially with the sxStarship being designed to be able to land on the moon and return to Earth with a single stop for orbital refueling, with a little luck there will be a much wider range of missions possible almost immediately.

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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 13 2019, @06:12AM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 13 2019, @06:12AM (#813604) Journal

    and we'd wish we had the SLS.

    Not going to happen. There are two important observations to make about the SLS. It has no killer app. There's no valuable payload that requires it. All the proposed missions are contrived to use its performance characteristics. One can simply contrive them a different way to use a far cheaper launch vehicle.

    Second, the cost of the SLS creates a huge opportunity cost which pulls money away from more useful activities that NASA could be working on instead. While it would be moderately nice, if NASA were to have a vastly larger budget, the reality is that after adjustment for inflation, its budget has been remarkably stable for the past 40 or so years (sure there is some variation [wikipedia.org], but it's less than a factor of two from lowest year to highest) with the present year about halfway in between. That establishes the usual zero sum issues that NASA has experienced for those decades. So any money spent on SLS is taken from elsewhere.

    Further, that money goes far in existing launch services. We could be putting hundreds of tons in orbit on existing vehicles, for example, for what has been thrown away on SLS so far.

  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 13 2019, @12:57PM (10 children)

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday March 13 2019, @12:57PM (#813698) Journal

    I don't see how SpaceX will not make a cargo version prior to or simultaneously with a crewed version. They need to do unmanned flights first and they need to lift large amounts of Starlink satellites.

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    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 13 2019, @02:37PM (9 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 13 2019, @02:37PM (#813729)

      Perhaps so. I could swear though that I had heard they were going to add the cargo version later. But perhaps I'm just thinking of the tanker version.

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 13 2019, @07:02PM (8 children)

        by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday March 13 2019, @07:02PM (#813874) Journal

        It might have been the tanker. Tanker is especially needed for destinations beyond LEO. Most of SpaceX's current business is LEO with some GEO/GTO. BFR can replace almost all Falcon 9 and Heavy launches, except for the ones where the customer is still nervous about using a new rocket.

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        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @03:51PM (7 children)

          by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @03:51PM (#814263)

          Well, not just LEO - my understanding is that BFR should be able to service pretty much all the useful Earth orbits and even manage single-pass moonshots without refueling. Now that I think of it, I can't can't say that I've heard anything about actually entering lunar orbit, though I suspect it could do so with a low enough payload.

          Where the tanker comes in is if you want to actually land on the moon, or leave the Earth-moon system entirely. Or I suppose, if you want to get to those higher orbits with a single LEO-sized payload.

          And on the bright side, it sounds like the tanker won't be strictly necessary - with plans in the works to initially use unloaded Starships as a "mini tankers". Of course, every fuel-transfer maneuver is another chance to damage or destroy a rocket, but as long as you have at least two mini-tankers in play, you can at least limit yourself to a single refueling maneuver with the payload-bearing Starship.

          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:01PM (6 children)

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:01PM (#814299) Journal

            my understanding is that BFR should be able to service pretty much all the useful Earth orbits and even manage single-pass moonshots without refueling

            I would be skeptical about all of that info, especially the no-refuel moonshot. The performance of the vehicle is still in flux (150 tons to LEO estimate down to "100+ tons", and could rise with future versions). They are also using all sea level Raptor engines and introducing vacuum variants later.

            I think the minimum we can say about it is that it will exceed the performance of expendable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy for any destination, without considering any orbital refueling, and will likely be cheaper than Falcon 9 to begin with when in fully reusable mode. If not at the start, then after SpaceX becomes experienced at quickly inspecting and relaunching BFRs.

            Another interesting aspect that probably doesn't get much consideration is that despite BFR being potentially slightly less powerful than variants of the Space Launch System (i.e. Block 2) that may never fly, BFR in an expendable mode could beat anything. Musk has also hinted [teslarati.com] that BFR could be cheaper to build than Falcon 9. We know that despite stainless steel being far cheaper than carbon fiber, material costs are a very small portion of the Falcon 9's costs. So for the guess to be true, it would have to be related to construction methods and manpower. Humanity has a lot of experience making large steel structures so it's plausible.

            My point is that if a customer like NASA wanted to try something special, like expending the booster, additional performance could be squeezed out of BFR. And the cost might not break the bank.

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            • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:33PM (5 children)

              by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:33PM (#814329)

              >I would be skeptical about all of that info, especially the no-refuel moonshot
              Why? Too be clear, I'm talking about a flyby such as the one already sold, not a landing, which he has stated will require a refueling in a highly elliptic Earth orbit..

              You posted that link above that the F9H could service the LOP-G, and a flyby is less fuel intensive than insertion into lunar orbit. If that's true, and the BFR can exceed the F9H's performance for any destination, then it should have no problem with non-landing lunar missions without refeuling. Especially once the later versions are fitted with dedicated vacuum engines. Though it does look like the current version is actually using hybrid engines if the characteristic inflection in the bell is any indicator, so they should get substantially better vacuum performance than strictly atmospheric engines.

              Hmm, I missed the cheap BFR tweet. Seems implausible, at least in the short term, especially considering that the re-usability will prevent substantial economies of scale in manufacturing. At least until such point as there's demand for multiple launches per day (which might not be radically distant if suborbital flights become popular).

              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:57PM (4 children)

                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:57PM (#814374) Journal

                Seems implausible, at least in the short term, especially considering that the re-usability will prevent substantial economies of scale in manufacturing.

                With heavy reuse over time that's not a significant cost of launch. The real problem is propellant usage. That provides the floor to just how cheap one can make the launch.

                • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @08:35PM (3 children)

                  by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @08:35PM (#814437)

                  Oh, absolutely. In fact they aim to bring the per-launch cost down below the F9 in relatively short order.

                  But that's not what the tweets takyon linked to are about - they seem to be specifically about bringing the *construction cost* of a BFR down below that of an F9:

                          This will sound implausible, but I think there’s a path to build Starship / Super Heavy for less than Falcon 9

                          — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

                          At least 10X cheaper

                          — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

                  That would be a real game changer, but I'm not holding my breath.

                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:05PM (2 children)

                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:05PM (#814466) Journal
                    Impressive if true, BUT...
                    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:13PM (1 child)

                      by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:13PM (#814475)

                      Exactly.

                      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:21PM

                        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:21PM (#814482) Journal
                        Let me just say here, that I have never cared what Musk has tweeted about. This is in large part why. I simply don't believe it's going to be true and thus, there's not much point to discussing tweets and similar communication eruptions. Further, the whole industry is lousy with this stuff. We have all kinds of people making all kinds of unfounded claims about what their business/national space program/pet project/etc is going to do in a few short years.
                        Nothing is the usual result.