Bob Zimmerman blasts the SLS and the porkers on the Hill, over at the WSJ.
“That’s what happened with President Reagan’s space station, Freedom, in the 1980s. After a decade of spending billions on blueprints, the project was unceremoniously canceled by Bill Clinton. Similarly, we spent about $9 billion on President Bush’s moon-bound Constellation program, ”
I thought we spent 12 billion on constellation?
“Both parties, however, are in agreement about one thing. When President Obama canceled Constellation, Congress stepped forward to demand that NASA continue to build some variation of Constellation’s rockets and Orion capsule. Thus we now have the Space Launch System, or SLS, a heavy-lift rocket for launching the Orion capsule ”
He doesn’t mention that the SLS version they are working on now, will not beable to launch the Orion because the stack will be overweight.
“When it is finished, the Space Launch System is expected to launch only once every four years, with a total cost per launch of about $14 billion. This is only the launch cost—including the annual operating expenses as well as the amortized cost of designing and building the rocket and capsule—and does not include the cost for any missions. Again, that’s $14 billion per launch”
14 billion? Can you show your work? The first flight would be 30 billion plus but each flight would push the average down .. it would not stay at 14 billion.
“He doesn’t mention that the SLS version they are working on now, will not beable to launch the Orion because the stack will be overweight.”
Hmm. Wasn’t NASA planning to test Orion on a Delta IV or Atlas V? Even if it is some stripped down version of Orion, I don’t understand how SLS wouldn’t be able to lift it. Could you expand on your statement a little bit please?
This was from a post over at Space Politics:
“Dark Blue Nine
August 7, 2013 at 2:09 pm · Reply
“I don’t think that is so much the issue as the low payload capacity of our Lilliputian launch vehicles.”
Wrong, as usual.
“The current projected mass of the spacecraft for the first crewed flight test exceeds the recommended mass by over 5,000 pounds.”
This is from the 2013 GAO report on NASA large projects and refers to the 2021 crewed flight test on the 70-ton SLS Block I.
There’s a fixed number of engines.
“I thought we spent 12 billion on constellation?”
The number I heard was $15.8 billion — $10.7 billion for Ares I and $5.1 billion for Orion. This counts appropriated and reprogrammed funds.
“He doesn’t mention that the SLS version they are working on now, will not be able to launch the Orion because the stack will be overweight.
That sounds like something got garbled somewhere. The block I SLS is supposed to be able to launch 70 metric tons to LEO, more than enough to lift Orion. However, rumor is that Orion is 5,000 lbs (or is it kg?) overweight for its parachutes.
“Again, that’s $14 billion per launch”
That one doesn’t sound right either, unless he’s amortizing the development cost over only three or four flights. Everyone has his own numbers, but I’m hearing a launch cost of $1.5 billion for SLS and a fly-away cost of the Orion capsule (a single-use vehicle) of $800 million.
There’s no authoritative source, so I don’t know why I’m throwing my numbers out there, but I do think they’re more accurate. Take them for what they’re worth.
So SLS is going to fly every six months for the next fifty years?
If I remember correctly, the shuttle program cost $3-4 billion per year, largely due to the costs of the infrastructure and standing army required to launch it. Since SLS is a jobs program, you can be pretty sure it will cost at least that much, even in years when the standing army are just twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do. Fly it every few years as they apparently plan to do, and that covers most of your $14 billion already.
Well, I don’t feel like subscribing to the WSJ just to comment, so I’ll comment here.
Hopefully such an article appearing in the WSJ will give at least some in Congress second-thoughts about the project, and hopefully enough to restore some sanity.
Just going with Zimmerman’s figures of $14 billion a flight, and a flight ever four years, the prospects look bleak.
People are upset that we’re paying $70 million dollars or so a seat to the Russians. Since the Orion crew capsule has a crew from 2 to 6, the first manned test flight will almost certainly just carry two test pilots (who are important and will come up again later). So you have an unmanned $14 billion dollar test of the Orion and SLS, then a manned launch with two people. So right off the bat you’ve hit $14 billion dollars a seat, enough money to have put 200 people into space on the Soyuz. But then the cost savings kick in, as you put six people on the Orion, dropping things to only $2.3 billion a seat. By the sixth manned flight, and here’s where the real imaginary savings come in, you have mission commanded by the sons and daughters of the first two test pilots, because the sixth flight occurs about 20-years after the first one.
The only way the per-seat cost could get past serious questioning is if NASA packed the Orion with hundreds of frozen zygotes. The only way the flight rate could pass muster is if people bought into the idea that a similar flight rate for Apollo, our previous expendable-rocket manned program, would’ve produced this timeline:
1967 First unmanned test flight of the big launcher (for SLS, 2017)
1971 Second unmanned test flight of the big launcher
1975 Apollo 7 gets into orbit. Grew greeted by Gerald Ford.
1979 Apollo 8 goes round the moon. Crew greeted by Jimmy Carter.
1983 Apollo 9 test in LEO. Crew greeted by Ronald Reagan.
1987 Apollo 10 test in lunar orbit.
1991 Apollo 11 lands on the moon! Crew greeted by George Bush.
1995 Apollo 12 lands on the moon! Crew greeted by Bill Clinton.
1999 Apollo 13 doesn’t land on the moon. Crew greeted by Al Gore, who blames the failure on a runaway temperatures due to a build-up of gases.
2003 Apollo 14 lands on the moon! Crew greeted by George W Bush.
2007 Apollo 15 lands on the moon.
2011 Apollo 16 lands on the moon. Crew greeted by Barrack Obama.
2014 America elects new greeter to replace Obama.
2015 Apollo 17 scheduled to land on the moon.
Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt would still be in line, hoping to get a seat on the lunar mission, which they actually flew back in 1972.
I can’t read the article but here is Zimmerman’s blog post, http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/essays-and-commentaries/pigs-in-space-2
Thanks for the link Wodun; I can’t view the WSJ article either.
Hrmmm. 14 billion per flight… assume a crew of 6. That’d be 2.3 billion per seat!
Okay, I know a lot of people here (me included) have criticized the massive expense of the Apollo program, and how it was too costly to sustain. But with SLS, even accounting for inflation, it’s actually far worse than Apollo in that regard, and it doesn’t have the capabilities the Apollo program did. (Apollo included the lunar lander, etc, not just the lauch vehicles, so to do a fair comparison to SLS you’d need to compare it with the Saturn 1b and Saturn 5, not the whole Apollo program… However, even if we do compare the entire Apollo program to the SLS launch system, the Apollo program, total, (including R&d, facilities, training, etc, etc) cost about 25 billion. Round that up to 100 billion in today’s dollars. That 100 billion gave us 17 (the first six being unmanned) Apollo missions, then Skylab (1 launch for the station, 3 for crew) then Apollo/Soyez. So 22 launches plus all the spacecraft and sundry other things. That many SLS launches (launch vehicle development and operational costs only, no spacecraft) would cost more than that. In fact, a lot more than that, due to the support costs being yearly for a quarter of a century. The support costs alone would be in the ballpark of an inflation adjusted Apollo program.
Please note that I’m not trying to defend Apollo, just pointing out that its worst aspects (the unsustainable costs) are even worse with SLS, for a far less capable architecture.
Oops, I bungled the numbers. To get the same number of launches out of SLS that we got out of Apollo, at the SLS’s proposed flight rate, wouldn’t take a quarter of a century, it’d take 88 years.
I don’t think the flight rate is politically or technically sustainable. People won’t really support a rocket that only flies about as often as Presidential elections. Normal Presidents especially won’t support it.
“I’m sorry sir, I know your predecessor got a photo op with some returning astronauts, which he used against you in his campaign, but we don’t have any more space flights schedules during your first term.”
“Then by God cancel the damn thing so if I get beat next time, my opponent won’t get a space flight, either.”
Technically, since there’s only one or so Block I flights, the Block II will be a whole new vehicle so the test series might as well start over without having flown the Block I. It’s basically just an airborne engine and vibration test on a vehicle that will get reconfigured anyway. But then the Block II test is going to be with some of the last remaining SSME engines, and then they start over with new RS-25E’s. About the time that’s done, they’ll be trying new booster replacements. Once those are tested, the program is basically over anyway.
If I was more creative, I would do a parody of SLS using Robert Zimmerman’s lyrics.
George: Of course it will be cancelled. But it will have served its primary purpose by providing jobz 4 the boyz & girlz in the home district for yet another 5-7 years. And then, they will reshuffle the components, give it a new name and launch a new program.
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