Another SLS Slip

And NASA (as in Gerst) isn’t happy with GAO’s (accurate) “unnecessarily negative” criticism of its and Boeing’s performance.

[Noon update]

Muilenburg responds with typical BS:

“The first rocket is now about 80% assembled, and we’re going through the detailed system integration,” he said. “These are very complex, sophisticated machines, so the technology itself is a challenge. I think it’s manageable. It’s work we know how to do. But it’s tough, challenging work, and we have to do it in a way that ensures safety in the end.”

Muilenburg said having consistent political and funding support for such a big space project was at least as challenging.

“We’ve seen that to date on the Space Launch System,” he said. “If we’re going to get back to the moon by 2024, we can do that, but we can’t if we don’t have stable, consistent support and funding. So the political and funding side of this, I would say, is actually the greater risk.”

The notion that SLS hasn’t had “consistent political support and funding” is beyond mendacious.

12 thoughts on “Another SLS Slip”

  1. I would agree with the GAO report, just based on my gut, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some at NASA point out that the author and lead for the GAO report, Christina Chapman, has degrees in international relations and journalism, not in a tech field, business, or accounting (bio).

    But given her experience, she’s probably dead-on right.

  2. Mr. Gerstenmaier is not happy with the tone of an opinion? In his time at NASA, our space program has gone from riding the tide of going to the moon, to failing at everything it tries. Two-woman space walk anyone? Part of this gradual slide in capability from lunar visits to paying Russia to help us leave the atmosphere, is accepting that SLS might not fly. The GAO can’t really be faulted for an accurate look at NASA’s declining capabilities these last few decades. And if Mr. Gerstenmaier doesn’t like these types of analysis of his performance, perhaps he can accomplish something new. Or even accomplish what he says he will do. If not, I fail to understand his anger.

  3. The Emperor is understandably very sensitive about any criticism of his chosen tailor.

    (Though I have to admit that metaphor is a bit misleading – in this case Boeing is pretty much doing what the Emperor insists on.)

  4. “The first rocket is now about 80% assembled, and we’re going through the detailed system integration,” he said. “These are very complex, sophisticated machines, so the technology itself is a challenge. I think it’s manageable. It’s work we know how to do. But it’s tough, challenging work, and we have to do it in a way that ensures safety in the end.”

    They’re using the same engines, both solids and liquids, that they’ve been working with since the late 1970’s. They have half as many liquid engines to hook up as a Falcon 9, and their Delta IV second stage has already flown a lot of missions. For a future side-booster upgrade, they’re even considering going back to the Saturn V’s F-1 engines. This should all be more than just “manageable” for the Earth’s top spaceflight organization.

    1. George, I disagree that NASA is the Earth’s top spaceflight organization. The last time their rocket flew was about 2011. And their ‘new’ one may never fly. I guess they still have the crawler, but I have serious doubts of it reaching escape velocity.

      1. Now admittedly, in the last 44 years they’ve put just as many men into orbit in a capsule as Haiti and Jamaica combined, but they were distracted with the Shuttle program and not focused on deep space. Also, the Russians offered Uber rides to the ISS, which seemed simpler than building a new rocket.

    2. The F-1 engine can’t be built today. The drawings don’t exist, and, more importantly, the people who built them are all retired or (for the most part) dead. I’ve been through too many programs where we were supposed to build a “legacy” item, and weren’t able to do so despite having not only the original drawings but the original production tooling. If the people who actually built the item are not available, it can’t be built…not without going through the entire learning curve they did.

      Apart from that, there are materials in the F-1 that are either unavailable today, or illegal to use. The same applies to the Apollo CSM and LM. Forget recreating Apollo hardware.

      1. A couple of years ago NASA fired the F-1’s gas generator to validate their engineering models.

        2013 Arstechnica article about the Pyrios booster and the modernized F-1B engine with 1.8 million lbs of thrust.

        Now, they’ve had dreams of eventually replacing the Shuttle SRBs with twin F-1 powered kerolox boosters ever since they decided on SRB’s back in the 70’s. All I can say is that someone was keeping the dream alive. They never did it because unlike the SRB’s, F-1 side booster wouldn’t be even a little bit reusable. But if money is really no object on the SLS, why not go for it?

        “Send four SSME’s and four F-1’s to the bottom of the ocean with a single launch? Hold my beer, I got this!”

        An RD-170 would have about the same thrust (1.63 million lbs vs 1.8 million lbs) and a much better performance (sea level ISP of 309 seconds vs 263 seconds), but it still wouldn’t be reusable.

        For cost, availability, and ease of integration, they should use four strap on Falcon 9 1st stage boosters with a sea level ISP of 282, and then return the slightly sooty used boosters to SpaceX about 10 minutes after the launch.

        Or they could recognize that the SLS core is really a second stage, and stick it on top of a SpaceX Superheavy to make the world’s tallest rocket.

        But they’re still throwing away the SLS core stage, which is simply unsustainable giving the cost and production rate.

        They need to just start over with a different design, but they can’t.

  5. Maybe its my American Exceptionalism bubbling up but the SLS program is rage inducing. NASA is incredibly lucky that 99% of the people aren’t paying attention because I guarantee that everyone from workers at Wallmart to bus drivers and baristas would be super !#$%@$ if they knew what was going on.

  6. What does “80% assembled” mean?

    It has taken 8 years and $14 billion (wikipedia’s as cheap source) to get to an 80% assembled rocket? I know one can argue that much of that time and expense was development and not build and assembly. However, that’s now how people discuss stuff like DOD acquisition, when they lump development cost and schedule into the average price per aircraft, tank, or ship. Why give NASA a pass?

    And what of the remaining 20%? Is that number of parts? Lines of code? Time and material? ISS lab module had a year delay waiting for software code. The module itself was structurally complete long before it was ready for flight.

    As for the political stability claim, you had 8 years. In that same 8 years, the private sector has done more with less. Perhaps politics is the problem, which is a good argument for privatizing NASA. The fact is NASA has not successfully designed a new human capable (forget rated) launch vehicle in 4 decades. When you do work at that pace, you are going to have political instability and funding issues along the way.

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