29 thoughts on “SLS”

    1. I think you are right based on my Facebook feed. Seems most of the NASA civil servants I know are more interested in telling local school districts how to handle a pandemic rather than delivering a project that is years late with cost overruns that could fund the more worthwhile endeavors they seem more interested in.

  1. No surprise here. The program is on track and doing exactly what it was designed to do — supply a steady flow of cash to Old Space companies and NASA workers.

    Actually launching the rocket would stop the gravy train.

  2. We always have to remember that politicians use different metrics to measure success than we space geeks. We think of things like launch costs per kilogram, launch rates, types of payloads, etc. Politicians think in terms of votes bought, bribes campaign contributions garnered, family members and cronies enriched, and post political office payoff opportunities. By all political metrics, the SLS has been an outstanding success even if it never flies. It has funneled over $20 billion to the desired constituents. Who could ask for anything more?

  3. Unexpectedly™.
    I wonder if we will get one (1) launch? Two (2) launches? Zero launches (0) before the life support gets pulled.

    1. Maybe thousands of launches? Pieces scattered everywhere! Unfortunately none made it to orbit. But you know sunk costs and reasons say we MUST do it again and again until it is gotten right! Then we cancel!

  4. If this thing reaches orbit any time before the heat death of the universe, THEN I’ll be surprised.

    1. Ditto. Modal survey is yet to be performed? Wow! That test on the Saturn V resulted in a fairly major redesign, when it was found that the Instrument Unit was located at a structural anti-node. One might argue that our modern design tools lower the probability of that happening…but one would be dead wrong. For a brief period, I worked on the development of the Launch Escape System Attitude Control Motor at ATK. The dynamic environments being imposed on the system changed on almost a weekly basis, always increasing and making the system engineers work overtime to keep up (they found a company that was really astute at producing dynamic isolation mounts, but I’m not sure it helped that much). When NASA finally flew the Ares 1, the data showed that the dynamic environments had been badly underestimated!

      We’re still about as good at predicting dynamic environments and the structural responses they produce as we were during the development of the Saturn V, though we can produce our wrong predictions at a somewhat faster pace. The computation part of it has gotten almost instantaneous. The subsequent “management” reviews of the results have grown to take the place of the previously ponderous calculations.

      If this is where they are at present, I agree with Chris.

      1. I seem to recall there still being some open questions about vibration dynamics leading up to the test launch of Falcon Heavy. Elon’s attitude was pretty much, “Well, we’ve simulated everything the best we can – now we have to fly and see what happens.” Ditto Starship. Of course it helps to have designed your test articles to have a marginal cost in the 7- or 8-figure range instead of the 10-figure range and to be able to build more than one per year.

        A few months ago it was still possible – barely – to pretend that the Which Will Get to Orbit First? question anent Starship and SLS-Orion was actually in some doubt. Now, even with FAA foot-dragging on Starship, that issue seems all but settled.

        The question now, I suppose, is How Many Starship Orbital Tests Will be Flown Before SLS-Orion Gets Off the Ground? I’m thinking at least two, though it would hardly shock me if the actual answer proves to be more than that. The really gnarly prediction problem is How Many Starship Orbital Tests Will be Flown Before the SLS-Orion Stack Flies a Second Time – Assuming There is a Second Time?

        1. I think it may depend on which definition of ‘test flight’ you use.

          Old Space: “No paying customers aboard, purely data gathering. Paying customer != test flight”

          Elon: “We can get your payload to orbit without issue, but we want to expand our performance envelope after you’re safely aloft. Care for another small discount from our already discounted price just in case?”

          National Team Goalpost Moving: “They won’t even freeze their design! Every flight is Immensely Complex and High Risk! They’re ALL test flights! Open your eyes, sheeple!!!!!”

          In that vein, every Starship flight could be an orbital test, or they could have two tests and then be making money from customers and no longer considered a test flight. Any way you define it, multiple orbital flights of Starship before SLS-Orion goes orbital for the first time seems likely.

          1. “Elon: “We can get your payload to orbit without issue, but we want to expand our performance envelope after you’re safely aloft. Care for another small discount from our already discounted price just in case?””

            Will they do this though? I could see Starlink launches but would they cannibalize Falcon 9 sales so soon?

          2. Good point on cannibalizing Falcon 9. He’ll probably start with Starlink, although the current test path dropped the payload door, so it may take a while to get back to that.

            I suppose my point was more that some might consider an envelope-expansion flight to be a “test flight”, while others might see that as an “operational flight”, even if they’re “only” lofting Starlink satellites.

            I also tried my hand at snark with my National Team crack. Good satire is hard.

          3. I didn’t see it as snark. It seemed exactly like what I heard many of them crow about as a point of pride with each Space Shuttle flight. “They were all immensely complex and high risk.” Case in point, the SLS design isn’t frozen, and the second launch vehicle will be different from the first. NASA and their contractors are not interested in routine operations. Routine operations have low profit margins.

            I guess you meant it as snark, as they were saying it as a complaint against Elon.

          4. Don’t forget, NASA declared the Shuttle fully operational after (IIRC) four flights. They removed the ejection seats, filled the cabin, and started carrying payloads for customers. What could possibly go wrong?

          5. “They won’t even freeze their design! …”
            I would expect every SLS will be as unique as a jeweled Fabergé Egg — assuming there is more than one launch.

        2. The bureaucracy has entered the room. The question is how long will the FAA (and possibly the EPA) drag out the process of approving the first SuperHeavy/Starship flight so as to not make NASA look bad?

  5. That whooshing sound were sighs of relief at NASA – and assurances that they will get their kick the can performance bonuses.

  6. Well, it looks like I’ll have to revise my personal estimate. I’ve been saying NET 2024 for years, and from the look of it, that’s way too early.

    I also recall winning a bet some years ago. The bet was made when SpaceX first announced Falcon Heavy, complete with a render showing the Block 1 F9 style, with the 3×3 engine layout instead of the octoweb. The bet was, which would fly first; Falcon Heavy, or SLS?

    I bet on Falcon Heavy, and won, even though FH took far longer to develop than I’d thought. (The bet, btw, was $1). We went double-or-nothing as to whether Starship or SLS would reach orbit first.

    SLS is IMHO a superb example of the old rule; if you want something done as expensive and slow as possible, have the government do it.

  7. Back when they started stacking the SRBs for the first launch, I could not understand why: that starts a one-year clock ticking, after which they become decertified. That clock started sometime in January 2021.

    So, how will they handle this issue? Waive the rule, or destack then restack with new propellant? My guess is they’ll do both; waive the rule for a while, then discover it’s risky and have to restack, and use that as an excuse for the next round of delays.

  8. Can Gateway components be launched on Falcon Heavy or SH/SS? The current lunar plans rely on Gateway or some intermediary that functions like Gateway. Too many delays and SLS might find payloads have all found other rides.

    I used to think they would use up all the engines and then call it quits but AR has started production on new engines.

    Ideally, SpaceX or BO or some other company will create enough awareness that SLS will get cancelled but it really depends on the economy and the printing press. Absent financial pressure, I don’t think SLS will get cancelled without flying.

    1. Artemis missions don’t require Gateway as at least the initial 2024 landing mission won’t use it due to its not being there yet. The initial two Gateway modules are to be launched, as a unit, by Falcon Heavy in 2025. No launch plans for subsequent modules have been firmed up yet to the best of my knowledge, but FH or Starship will most likely be tapped for those too – unless the Euros want to use Ariane 64 to launch theirs and/or the Japanese want use H3.

  9. I think they should go back to square one. think about what kind of Moon base we actually plan on building, in exquisite detail. Then design and build it here on Earth. Then design, develop, and build one rocket that can take the entire thing to the Moon and land it there in one shot. There’s no lower risk approach, IMHO. It will never happen, so there’s no risk!

    I can’t really see the difference between that approach and SLS/whatever.

    1. As a research program for determining the most expensive way to deliver water vapor into the upper atmosphere this program is unparalleled in history…

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