What's the True Cost of NASA's Space Launch System?

Revisiting SLS/Orion launch costs, John Strickland for The Space Review

"A year and a half ago, I wrote an article very critical of the Space Launch System. To see if this assessment should now be updated, I checked a series of sources and found that little in the situation has changed, with no reliable cost estimates of an SLS launch yet available anywhere. It is actually amazing how hard it is to get cost estimates for any part of the SLS/Orion system. Another assessment corroborates this problem. While I was working on this article, two startling pieces of information came to light.

It is hard to see how a large rocket like the SLS, which is, with all of its components, destroyed in the course of a launch, could possibly cost a lot less than the Space Shuttle on a per-launch basis. It will probably cost considerably more, since all of the expensive rocket engines and other equipment will either smash into the ocean at high speed or reenter the atmosphere and burn up. Note that the Space Shuttle and SLS systems are somewhat comparable in the amount of mass that reaches orbit, although the shuttle's functional "payload" is only what it carried in its cargo bay (about 20 tons) when it was being used as a launch vehicle, rather than the roughly 100-ton mass of the orbiter itself."

Marc's note: This is an interesting perspective on the costs of SLS/Orion. With NASA's budget set to shrink and SLS/Orion seemingly taking a larger percentage of the budget and at least commercial options available, it raises the question, why is NASA developing the SLS? Wouldn't a commercial option be better value? Why not have NASA focus on an exploration vehicle like the Nautilus concept?

Congress of course mandated NASA to build SLS, so that question is easily answered. It's a jobs creation program for those States that have have a stake in SLS. Isn't time though that someone assert some leadership and steer NASA on its proper course? The public doesn't understand the repercussions of the current mess Congress has made of this. Congress continues to say that we must retain our leadership in space yet by its very own actions is causing the opposite to happen. It doesn't help that the White House isn't providing any leadership either.

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This page contains a single entry by Marc Boucher published on July 16, 2013 9:58 AM.

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