16 thoughts on “SLS BS”

  1. Another issue for those considering SLS is the cost of the vehicle. Stough took issue with some cost estimates for the vehicle. “The cost numbers you hear in the media are typically inflated,” he said, by taking into account fixed costs. He didn’t give specific examples, but some estimates assume an SLS cost of $2 billion each, based on the program’s annual budget and flight rate.

    Asked for his estimate of SLS costs, he said “we are close to $1 billion per launch right now.” He projected that to decrease by 20 to 30% by the early 2030s as the flight rate increases. Asked for his estimate of SLS costs, he said “we are close to $1 billion per launch right now.” He projected that to decrease by 20 to 30% by the early 2030s as the flight rate increases.

    Well even if true, that puts an SLS minimum cap at $700 million up to $800 million per launch. That’s after 10 years of assumed flight rate increases. Artemis Smartemis…..To raise that kinda money is gonna need a 10-20 year lead time.

    That’s one heck of a supply chain, trolling using a supply chain of that length ought to bring up a really giant squid.

    1. If you don’t add in the fixed cost, how do you get a reduction in costs as the program goes along unless you keep neglecting the program’s fixed costs? NASA 2022 Budget Summary (PDF)

      Exploration Systems Development, which is SLS and Orion, for the purpose of:

      Enables the Artemis goal of landing the first woman and first person of color on the Moon’s south pole

      2020 $4.512 billion
      2021 $4.544 billion
      2022 $4.483 billion
      2023 $4.384 billion
      2024 $4.219 billion
      2025 $3.888 billion
      2026 $3.867 billion

      The first launch of block 1 crew in 2021 is just an unmanned test launch, a cost not a benefit. The second launch is a 2023 lunar flyby. The third is a planned landing in 2024.

      If you spending $3 to $4 billion a year on the program, and you’re launching once a year, your cost is not $1 billion per launch. In fact, by the time they get to the fourth manned flight, they’ll already have spent about $43 billion. The program can never get anywhere near $1 billion per flight.

      1. I saw this post on Instapundit which is a copy of Matt Yglesias tweet that Economics is right wing because there are only 5 self-identified Democrat professors for every one self-identified Republican professor. That post and this discussion makes me think NASA hires many economic professors to run their numbers. They probably see the development costs as sunk and therefore can ignore the amortization of that debt over operational life. Us extreme right wing Engineers, of course, have a different opinion.

        1. They are sunk costs and should be disregarded when deciding whether or not SLS should be used going forward. Looking at them is a great way to examine the folly of the past but it doesn’t really matter as the expenditure is an ideological one.

          What does count are the operating and production costs going forward when compared to alternatives. On that basis alone, SLS should be cancelled. David Spain says the cost per launch could be $700 million and even then SLS should be cancelled. But if SuperHeavy and Starship didn’t exist? Those SLS numbers wouldn’t look too bad.

          1. When you add the cost of 4 RS-25’s, 2 RL-10’s for a Centaur 5 upper stage, and the two SRB’s, I think you’re already at about $700 million.

            NASA hopes to be able to build three SLS cores per year, and Michoud employs 4,200 people. Even if they were just making $50K a year (by firing anyone senior), that’s another $140 million per core. But usually overhead is three times bigger than salary, so the cost is likely over a billion dollars without any actual payload or tanks or other hardware.

          2. There you go. Those number are convincing enough without the sunk costs. People are so used to government lighting money on fire that they aren’t likely to get worked up over the past but many are concerned about the future.

      2. Thanks for those numbers!

        So… the program costs about 4 billion a year.

        IMHO, even if we don’t count development costs, a program that costs 4 billion a year and launches once a year costs 4 billion per launch.

        Looks to me like the 1 billion cost per launch claim is a magnificent application of creative accounting; simply by not counting all the costs, you get a lower cost. It’s the accounting version of skydiving out of a plane at 5,000 feet, and deciding to delay your ‘chute opening to increase your free-fall time by simply not counting the first 7500 feet of fall.

        1. ” However, Stough said that if proposed missions wanted to use SLS, they needed to start discussions with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) now to secure a spot on the manifest in roughly a decade.”


          1. Ack, meant that “hmm” for the last bit of Arizona CJ’s comment.

            Disregard the quote from the article.

  2. It would be helpful if people stopped trying to apply infrastructure costs to programs. This is the same way detractors “showed” that Shuttle was “unaffordable,” and, indeeed, Apollo before that. The question to be answered is, how much would we spend on the space program with no flights, no space stations, etc? That’s the price we pay for the privilege of having a space program, even if it does nothing.

    1. Well to answer that question we’d have to look at the numbers from various audits to figure out how much of the money being attributed to SLS in the budget is actually going to the SLS, and how much is pure overhead, and how much is people just putting “SLS” down for whatever project they’re really working on.

      To me, the problem really isn’t the cost, as we’d be paying NASA about the same amount of dollars no matter how often SLS flew. The problem is that it will almost never fly.

    2. It is an ideological cost. Our federal budget is based on ideological priorities. Cost isn’t that important. What people think is being done or their aspirations of what should be done are important. Actual details are less important as long as the whole thing doesn’t implode, as was so close to happening before COTS shook things up.

      Our main priorities are; graft > social programs > military > creating debt > servicing debt > other stuff.

      1. Years ago I did a little experiment to find out what the US was spending its tax money on by adding up various Federal, State, and local budgets. It turns out something like 70% of total tax revenues are spent on “education” with most of the rest spent on pavement and military. Everything else is lost in the noise.

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