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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 Thursday March 14 2019, @09:43PM (1 child)

    by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:43PM (#814502)

    Yes, they have experience with the testing and certification. That doesn't mean they want to go through it for something that doesn't serve their purposes. And a "Dragon 2-L" doesn't serve SpaceX's purposes.

    Now, *if* a passenger Starship isn't looking to be available by the time they start sending people to LOP-G, perhaps NASA could offer enough incentive for SpaceX to take some of their engineers away from BFR development to work on a new Dragon revision, as a stopgap solution. But I suspect that would be a hard sell if the BFR/BFS were near fruition.

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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @11:04PM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @11:04PM (#814525) Journal

    Yes, they have experience with the testing and certification. That doesn't mean they want to go through it for something that doesn't serve their purposes.

    A purpose like getting paid well by someone with deep pockets?

    My point here is not to claim that NASA will launch everything on Dragon 2s, but rather that these problems aren't particularly difficult for any party that is already putting space capsules in orbit. Going back to my original point:

    Send two Falcon Heavies then. A key problem here is that we don't need the capabilities of an SLS, but we will need orbital assembly. So might as well use the vastly more economical Falcon Heavy (and/or the BFR) and use orbital assembly which you were going to develop anyway. Or even the considerable number of 20-25 ton payload rockets currently in existence.

    The supporters for the SLS are playing the same game that was played with the Space Shuttle and Constellation. They tout the capabilities of the vehicle. But that ignores two very important things. First, that the capabilities are unnecessary. We can work around all the problems of using smaller payload vehicles with modest effort and cost, and launch today. Second, there's the matter of cost. It doesn't matter how awesome your launch vehicle is, if you can't afford to use it. In addition to the huge delays, the SLS has a very low launch frequency (slower than anything except possibly the Delta IV). That means each launch, when it happens, will be very expensive.

    That's why I'm outright against funding the SLS. It's a huge drain on NASA's resources and doesn't further any US interests. What it does do, and which may lead to it lingering around decades into the future, is distribute federal swag to the right zip codes.