"A giant welding machine, built for NASA's multi-billion dollar Space Launch System (SLS), has to be taken apart and rebuilt because the contractor failed to reinforce the floor, as required, prior to construction: "Sweden's ESAB Welding & Cutting, which has its North American headquarters in Florence, South Carolina, built the the roughly 50-meter tall Vertical Assembly Center as a subcontractor to SLS contractor Boeing at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. ESAB was supposed to reinforce Michoud's floor before installing the welding tool, but did not, NASA SLS Program Manager Todd May told SpaceNews after an April 15 panel session during the 31st Space Symposium here. As a result, the enormous machine leaned ever so slightly, cocking the rails that guide massive rings used to lift parts of the 8.4-meter-diameter SLS stages The rings wound up 0.06 degrees out of alignment, which may not sound like much, "but when you're talking about something that's 217 feet [66.14 meters] tall, that adds up," May said."
Recently in SLS and Orion Category
"In order to decrease the risk that the GSDO Program will experience cost increases or schedule delays, we recommended the Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations reevaluate allowing GSDO to complete Critical Design Review before the SLS and Orion Programs. In response to a draft of our report, NASA management concurred with our recommendation ... However, NASA management noted a risk that the dates planned for SLS and Orion could slip and the GSDO review occur first. Accordingly, NASA should closely monitor the Programs to ensure any such risk is mitigated so as to avoid significant cost increases or schedule delays."
NASA's Space Launch System Booster Thunders During Successful Ground Test
"The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday ..."
"Between Sept. 25, 1965 and June 17, 1967, three static test firings were done. SL-1 was fired at night, and the flame was clearly visible from Miami 50 km away, producing over 3 million pounds of thrust. SL-2 was fired with similar success and relatively uneventful. SL-3, the third and what would be the final test rocket, used a partially submerged nozzle and produced 2,670,000 kgf thrust, making it the largest solid-fuel rocket ever."
Keith's note: That picture shows 5.88 million pounds of good old 1960s Aerojet rocket thrust folks (larger image) compared with only 3.6 million pounds of 2015 Orbital ATK thrust. Funny how NASA has forgotten the amazing things it once paid Aerojet to do back in the day. Indeed it has been thumping this incorrect "most powerful rocket booster" mantra for weeks.
Aerojet-Dade Rocket Facility (this place still exists!)
"The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday for a major-milestone ground test in preparation for future missions to help propel NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars."
NASA's $349 million monument to its drift, Washington Post
"In June, NASA finished work on a huge construction project here in Mississippi: a $349 million laboratory tower, designed to test a new rocket engine in a chamber that mimicked the vacuum of space. Then, NASA did something odd. As soon as the work was done, it shut the tower down. The project was officially "mothballed" closed up and left empty without ever being used."
Keith's note: Under the FY 2016 budget Mars Opportunity shuts down in FY 2016 and Mars Odyssey shuts down in FY 2017. Both spacecraft still work. Funny how NASA, Congress, and the White House can spend hundreds of millions on an engine and test stand facilities that will not be used - but keeping still-useful Mars probes operational for a few million is not possible? Where is the logic in that? The "State of NASA" is confused - and adrift - if this is what passes for a good space policy.
Keith's update: According to Dave Radzanowski NASA is looking to zero out LRO, Opportunity, Odyssey etc. in FY 2016 BUT that this happened last year as well and NASA looked at the missions and eventually found the money to keep them going. That said, its a little bit like Charlie Brown and Lucy and the football. They do this every year with small missions. Everyone screams, they find the money, and nothing gets cancelled. You have to wonder why they do this in the first place since they already know that they will fund these missions. Again, this speaks to a lack of strategic thought - the sort of thing you'd expect within an agency that is adrift.
"The new year is off to a hot start for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). The engine that will drive America's next great rocket to deep space blazed through its first successful test Jan. 9 at the agency's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This is the first of eight tests for the development engine, which will provide NASA engineers with critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. Four RS-25 engines will power SLS on future missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars."
"New video recorded during NASA's Orion return through Earth's atmosphere provides viewers a taste of what the vehicle endured as it returned through Earth's atmosphere during its Dec. 5 flight test."
"In August 2014, NASA completed the review of the SLS program that sets formal cost and schedule baselines and, in doing so, delayed the first test flight to relieve schedule pressure and allow additional time to address design challenges. However, some of the concerns we raised about the cost estimates, mission requirements, and long-term affordability remain. In addition, our ongoing work has found that the three human exploration programs are pursuing inconsistent and unrealistic schedule goals and that the Orion program is facing significant technical and funding issues that may affect NASA's overall schedule for its human exploration programs."
After historic Orion flight, NASA still faces challenges, GAO says, Washington Post
"It took us less than a decade not only to go around the moon but to land on the moon under Apollo," said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said it could cost at least $10 billion to develop "this monstrous rocket project." Even then, he said, it "won't have a real mission until we go to Mars, which could be two decades or three decades from now, depending on if we can ever get over the technological hurdles we haven't gotten over yet."
At the hearing, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) asked how much funding would be required to bring the first SLS/Orion mission, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), back to December 2017. "In terms of the technical work, I think we've really probably moved off of December 2017," Gerstenmaier responded, "so I don't think funding will pull us back to that date."
- Archived webcast
- Hearing Charter
- GAO Testimony by Cristina Chaplain - Hearing on SLS and Orion
- Statement by Steven Palazzo - Hearing on SLS and Orion
- Statement of Chairman Lamar Smith - Hearing on SLS and Orion
- Testimony of William H. Gerstenmaier - Hearing on SLS and Orion
- Subcommittee Reviews Progress of Nation's Human Spaceflight Programs
- Space Subcommittee Discusses Progress of SLS-Orion Development and Successful EFT-1 Mission
"Has a Massive BOONDOGGLE Hobbled NASA? - Chris Hayes: NASA space agency celebrated a major successful launch on Friday. However, a former NASA official says it's being undermined by short-sighted politicians pushing old technology to keep pork barrel spending in their districts With Lori Garver, former Deputy NASA Administrator.
From ALL IN, MSNBC"
Keith's note: Orion was launched on-time this morning at 7:05 am ET. It is now in orbit. You can try and watch NASA TV here however the online (USTREAM) service has been bad all morning. Only CNBC and Fox carried the launch live. CNN and MSNBC did not. No one is showing live updates.
Keith's note: Today's attempt to launch Orion EFT-1 has been scrubbed today after continuing issues with ground winds - and then with fill and drain valves on the Delta IV Heavy Launch vehicle. There were also issues with battery levels on the rocket's video system. The plan seems to be to try again tomorrow with a 7:05 am ET launch time.
Keith's update: According to speakers at today's NASA press briefing, the ship that caused the launch delay was never in a position to present a safety hazard. While winds caused the first two scrubs, the ultimate scrub for the day had to do with sluggish response times for liquid Hydrogen valves on the Delta IV Heavy. This is an issue that has been seen before on a prior launch. There are also some minor issues having to do with battery life for instrumentation inside of Orion and inside the Delta IV Heavy rocket that are being addressed. If a launch attempt is made tomorrow but is not successful, then ULA will need to skip over Saturday in order to replenish ground tanke supplies. Overall the tone of the briefing was that this all went by the books, the issues are understood and can be handled.
Video: NASA's Orion Cockpit, SpaceRef
"Orion's December flight test will be uncrewed, but the spacecraft is meant to carry people. Astronaut Lee Morin shows off the cockpit future Orion crews will use in this video. The first test flight of Orion is scheduled for December 4th."
"If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?" Smith asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an Oct. 7 letter co-signed by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee."
5 Years After Augustine, Florida Today
"The funding still doesn't match the missions," said Norman Augustine, the former Lockheed Martin CEO who headed the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, in a recent interview. "We've been there before, we know how that movie ends. I just hope we find a way to avoid that."
"NASA's new Orion spacecraft and the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space are at their penultimate stops in Florida on their path to a December flight test."
"On 30 September United Launch Alliance (ULA) rolled the Delta IV Heavy rocket from its processing facility to Space Launch Complex 37 in advance of the Dec. 4 Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) for NASA's Orion spacecraft."
Orion Spacecraft Transfers to Launch Abort System Facility, Lockheed Martin
"NASA and Lockheed Martin have finished fueling the Orion spacecraft with ammonia, hydrazine and high pressure helium at Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Orion has now been moved to the Launch Abort System Facility for integration with the launch abort system (LAS)."
"In developing the SLS, the Act directed the Administrator to utilize, to the extent practicable, existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle Program (SSP), Orion, and Ares I projects. This includes SSP-derived components and Ares I components that draw extensively on SSP heritage propulsion systems, including liquid fuel engines, external tank or tank-related capability, and solid rocket motors. To achieve this mandate, NASA initiated the development of the SLS with SSP and Ares I derived assets. Specific to the Core Stage Engine, the system will utilize modified RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) hardware and Ares I components to provide the required lift capabilities. This procurement action is to acquire six additional RS-25 Core Stage Engines. These six flight engines in combination with the available RS-25 residual inventory will support the SLS flight manifest through the first five flights."
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invites Industry to submit a response to this Request for Information (RFI) to assist NASA in the planning for a new Exploration Upper Stage Engine (EUSE) acquisition development."
Keith's note: Funny how NASA makes these overt statements about using Ares stuff - stuff that cost billions - and yet when you ask how much SLS costs they never seem to include the cost of all the Ares stuff.
"NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has released what could be a new regular video feature called Inside KSC. It appears to be a complementary product to the September edition of the KSC Spaceport Magazine."
"NASA's first completed Orion crew module sits atop its service module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew and service module will be transferred together on Wednesday to another facility for fueling, before moving again for the installation of the launch abort system. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space on its first flight in December."
NASA Outreach on Social Media, This is True
"Worse, the word "Mars" isn't anywhere in the story. Isn't that the more interesting thing? We're going to Mars? Cool! What are we going to do there? Yet the story doesn't mention such a mission. After digging and digging through the Orion home page, going through all 11 pages of press releases, I didn't find a single story that had the word "Mars" in the title. That's when I went to find the "About Orion" box, way down the page (and copied above) that mentions that Orion might "eventually" be going to Mars. After doing some more research, I don't find anything about an approved mission to Mars, but the earliest they could launch if they do get funding is the year 2020. Absolutely NASA should be doing long-range planning, and absolutely they should be doing public outreach, but if such a mission hasn't even been designed yet, then the "return from Mars at 29,000 MPH" is speculative at best."
Letter to NASA Administrator Bolden from House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Republicans, 27 August 2014
"Will NASA be able to fly the SLS for Exploration Mission-1 in calendar year 2017? If it will not, please explain what has changed since your testimony on April 24, 2013 and whether, during your testimony on March 27, 2014, you were aware that this flight could be delayed beyond calendar year 2017.
Do you stand by your testimony that stated "We have asked for.. .and stated over and over that this is the amount of money that we need to deliver the SLS on the date and time that we said, 2017 for the inaugural mission?" If you do not stand by this testimony, please explain what has changed and how you would update this testimony to more accurately reflect the program's schedule."
"According to the program's risk analysis, however, the agency's current funding plan for SLS may be $400 million short of what the program needs to launch by 2017."
"Moreover, NASA's estimates do not capture the cost of the second flight of the 70-metric ton vehicle during EM-2, the costs of development work that will be necessary to fly the increased 105- and 130-metric ton SLS capabilities, and the costs associated with legacy hardware that will be used for the Orion program. In contrast, best practices for cost estimation call for "cradle to grave" life cycle cost estimates in order to help assess a program's long-term affordability."
"Among the things being announced by NASA was that the launch date for the first SLS mission was being slipped to late 2018 from its current 2017 date. But NASA did not want to call it a slip and said that everyone was still working according the schedule they had been working on. Of course this would mean that NASA has spent the fast few years working toward a date 2018 date while telling the world it was focused on 2017. Later in the telecon NASA said that it might launch the first SLS mission in late 2017 or early 2018. So in other words NASA does not actually have a clear idea when it will launch the first SLS mission. You can be certain that it will slip again - well into 2019 before a first launch date is even discussed. But NASA wants you to know that they have 70% confidence in all of their plans at this point. But when asked what the previous level of confidence was they admitted that they had never done the calculation. So were they more - or less confident prior to this? Given that they just slipped their launch date by a year ..."
NASA Commits to SLS Launch Readiness in November 2018, $7 Billion for Development, Space Policy Online
"Gerstenmaier extolled media participating in the teleconference not to get "hung up on the first launch date. ... NASA has been saying that the second SLS launch, EM-2, which will be the first to carry a crew, would take place in 2021, but today Gerstenmaier said 2021 or 2022. The launch rate thereafter is only once "every couple of years," Lightfoot said."
"But as of today, the only actual missions that are covered by NASA's projected budget are three test flights: the December launch of an uncrewed Orion capsule atop a Delta 4 rocket; the first SLS test flight in 2018; and the first crewed test flight around 2021. While the rockets are considered essential to deep space exploration missions like a proposed asteroid visit and eventual flights to Mars, no such missions are currently funded or even in detailed planning."
"This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018."
"NASA officials will hold a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EDT today to discuss the agency's progress on the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars. The teleconference will be streamed live on NASA's website at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio"
Building Blocks to Mars - AIAA Space 2014, SpaceRef Business
"At this years AIAA Space 2014 conference a panel of experts from NASA and industry discussed the building blocks of to Mars.
The panel discussion: The first step on a path of exploration that will lead to human landings on Mars will be taken in the coming months with the Exploration Flight Test 1 of Orion on a Delta IV Heavy rocket. After that, Orion and Space Launch System will begin a series of exploration missions that will lead to human journeys to Mars. As a capabilities-driven framework, these systems will enable a variety of potential paths to the Red Planet."
Marc's note: The panel discussed the "current" NASA approach. Politics, the private sector, other efforts outside the U.S. were not part of the discussion.
"NASA has released its quarterly from the Exploration Systems Division on the ongoing Orion, Space Launch System, Ground Systems Development and Operations programs for April, May and June of 2014."
"NASA also faces challenges integrating existing hardware that was not originally designed to fly on SLS. For example, SLS is using solid rocket boosters from the Constellation program, but integrating a new non-asbestos insulating material into the booster design has proven difficult and required changes to the booster manufacturing processes."
Fading Solid Fuel Engine Biz Threatens Navy's Trident Missile, Breaking Defense
"Failure to launch" isn't a metaphorical concern when you work on nuclear weapons. That's why the director of the Navy's euphemistically named Strategic Systems Program (SSP) is a worried man. What has Vice Adm. Terry Benedict worried is something neither he, nor the Navy nor the entire Defense Department directly control. It's the viability of what Benedict called "an already fragile industry" that produces the solid-fuel rocket boosters for the Navy's Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The worst part is that the solid fuel rocket engine business is an industry that will live or die not on the military's own decisions, but on NASA's.
GAO: True Cost of SLS, Orion Unclear, Space News
"NASA has not released comprehensive, long-term cost estimates for SLS and Orion. The reason is to avoid giving Congress sticker shock, said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations. "If we laid out a path directly to Mars and we laid out all the vehicles and all the testing and all the work to get there, then you end up with a fairly long period of time with a lot of funding that goes into that activity that says this program is something maybe we don't want to go do," Gerstenmaier said in November during a panel discussion with SLS and Orion prime contractors at the Newseum in Washington."
GAO Sees Through NASA's SLS/Orion Smoke and Mirrors, earlier post
"In a statement released today, Brooks repeated his often-stated charge that America would not be without human spaceflight capability if the Obama administration had not cancelled the Constellation rocket program shortly after taking office in 2010. That decision, plus an earlier decision by the George W. Bush administration to retire the space shuttle and replace it with Constellation, has left America buying rides to the station from Russia while three companies race to provide American-owned access to space."
Keith's note: More imaginary facts from Mo Brooks. Even if Constellation was still in place NASA's commercial crew provider would fly crews sooner and vastly more cheaply than NASA ever could.
"- The SLS estimate is based on the funding required to develop and operate the initial 70-metric ton variant through first flight in 2017 but not the costs for its second flight in 2021. NASA is now incurring some costs related to the second flight, but it is not currently tracking those costs for life cycle cost estimating purposes. Furthermore, the estimate does not include costs to incrementally design, develop, and produce future 105- and 130-metric ton SLS variants which NASA expects to use for decades. NASA is now funding concept development and analysis related to these capabilities.
- The Orion estimate does not include costs for production, operations, or sustainment of additional crew capsules, despite plans to use and possibly enhance this capsule after 2021. It also does not include $4.7 billion in prior costs incurred during the approximately 4 years when Orion was being developed as part of NASA's now-defunct Constellation program.
- The ground systems estimate excludes costs to develop or operate the ground systems infrastructure beyond 2017, although NASA intends to modify ground architecture to accommodate all SLS variants."
"NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) will have the largest cryogenic fuel tanks ever used on a rocket. Stands to test the tanks and other hardware to ensure that these huge structures can withstand the incredible stresses of launch will be built at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA is contracting for the construction of the test stands through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has awarded a $45.3 million contract to Brasfield & Gorrie of Birmingham, Alabama."
"Similar to the OIG's conclusions 5 years ago, the OIG found that NASA failed to follow its internal policies or its agreement with the DOD when it decided to spend approximately $352 million to refurbish and test the SLS core stage on the B-2 test stand at Stennis. Moreover, the OIG found that NASA did not adequately support its decision given that refurbishing the B-2 stand will be more costly and take longer than two other possible options: an Air Force test stand at Edwards Air Force Base in California and a test stand at the Marshall Space Flight Center."
"A project to build a new super-heavy carrier rocket was included into the draft new Federal Space Program (FSP) Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko said on Thursday. "A [super] heavy carrier rocket was included into the new FSP. Work is still under way, with the first stage envisaging the construction of a rocket capable of lifting from 70 to 80 metric tons," Ostapenko said, adding that such rockets would be enough for projects scheduled for the next 20 or 30 years. The second stage of the project is to build a carrier rocket capable of lifting from 100 to 120 metric tons of payload into the low-earth orbit."
The Spaceship to Everywhere, Dennis Tito, Huffington Post
"SLS and Orion give us so much more than technical capabilities. They will allow us to open deep space to all humankind, to expand human knowledge beyond our imagination, extend human experience out into the solar system, forge global partnerships for a better world and inspire humanity to dream of and achieve a better future. To not pursue SLS/Orion is to retreat from U. S. leadership in human space flight and watch China or Russia leave us behind as they and their partners benefit from unlocking the secrets of the solar system."
Keith's note: I find it to be utterly amazing that a guy who has made so much money can be so utterly clueless when it comes to the absurd cost realities of SLS. Show me the money, Dennis - for without it this truly is "the rocket to nowhere". By the way, what ever happened to all of those millions you were going to put into the wholly private "Inspiration Mars"? Nothing but crickets so far. Is this another instance of 'do as I say, not as I do'?
Inspiration Mars Sets Sights on Venus/Mars Flyby in 2021, Dennis Tito, opinion, SpaceNews
"Today, the IMF remains fully committed to its vision to help provide America with a viable, challenging and inspirational mission to Mars as a way to help accelerate our nation's plans for space exploration. However, given the extensive use of NASA assets that are already funded and under development, the strategy to pursue the mission opportunity in 2021 would clearly be the purview of the Congress, the Obama administration and NASA."
Keith's note: Tito's op ed is, at a minimum, disingenuous. Actually it is outright deceptive. This is bait and switch, plain and simple. As if no one would notice. Tito seems to want everyone to think that his original wholly-private funded Falcon-9 based plan for 2017 is somehow just a different flavor of his new 2021 SLS/Orion-based, NASA-funded plan. Ho hum. All that needs to be done is change the computer graphics, write some op eds, update the calendar app on your smartphones, and off we go to Mars. He says that it's all "Inspirational" so who cares, right?
Mr. Tito is asking NASA, Congress, and the White House to find billions of dollars on top of a budget that is going to be flat for the next few years, and launch the very first SLS/Orion mission on a trip to Mars with zero chance of return should anything go wrong. ANYTHING. Even the gutsy Apollo 8 had precursor shakeout flights of its launch vehicle and main spacecraft systems. No advisory committee has called for this mission.
And unless these extra billions are found the ISS will need to be abandoned by the U.S. There is simply no money to do both under the budget that everyone in Washington seems to want NASA to have. By going from the laudable notion of a privately-funded mission to one paid for by tax dollars Inspiration Mars is now simply an advertisement for more SLS funding. No "inspiration" there.
Tito just wants us all to do it as part of his legacy and he wants the rest of us to foot the bill. Has he disclosed how much of his own millions he will commit?
Keith's update: Looks like the Constellation rehash FISO telecon (see below) has been changed (no explanation given). Instead, this week's presentation is "Making Human Mars Exploration Affordable: Results of a Workshop" Joseph Cassady, Aerojet Rocketdyne & Michael Raftery, Boeing". It will be held tomorrow (Wednesday) at 3pm EST. Dial in: 877-921-5751 Passcode: 623679.
Also, and perhaps I am being a little paranoid, but when I try to reach this link and this link from my office (in the U.S.), I am told that I am "forbidden" to have access. Yet when I use an anonymizer service (in Europe) or my iPhone to gain access, I can get in. Other people across the country report that they have access. How odd.
Keith's update: According to their website (again accessed through another route):
"Denial of Service Policy: The FISO telecon archives are being accessed by an ever-increasing number of users. As a result, we now find it wise to more carefully administer those requests. In particular, we have begun "denial of service" to selected IPs. These IPs are those that:
* attempt repeated attacks on our system, and have been identified as being malicious
* download the same file many, many times
* use bandwidth by downloading the entire 3GB archive
* are mp3 robots that only go after mp3 files (we consider it somewhat suspicious when the mp3 file is the only presentation file accessed)
* download pdfs in lots of very tiny pieces, each with an independent server request (we believe this is from downloads to some mobile devices -- this mucks up our logs)
If you find that your IP has been blocked, please get in touch with us, and we should be able to trace why that happened."
Well, I have certainly never done any of these things and I defy Dan Lester at UT to prove that I have. If NASA is going to overtly sponsor, support, participate in, and promote this activity (i.e. allow civil servants to charge their time and present material directly related to their NASA job) then they cannot be a party to the actions of a partner who blocks taxpayers (the ones who pay for this work) from access to these telecons.
"NASA/GRC intends to contract to Alphaport, Inc. This is a follow-on effort to activities originally performed by Alphaport under contract NNC13QB53P in which Alphaport developed a visually library of Orion illustrations, graphics facts sheets, and other media products. Currently, Alphaport is the only contractor who has develop the initial media material and has the needed understanding of the media activities to complete the SOW requirements in the limited time available to support Orion Exploration Flight Test 1."
Keith's update: Huh? Just what have HEOMD and NASA PAO been doing the past several years? Why does GRC need to develop "a visually library of Orion illustrations, graphics facts sheets, and other media products" in addition to what HEOMD and PAO have already developed? Why does NASA constantly need to have multiple teams doing the same thing? And how can GRC possibly state that Alphaport is "the only contractor" with this capability? And yet everyone in the EPO and PAO world is constantly whining about not having enough money. Gee, I wonder why.
- NASA's Tangled Human Spaceflight Web Presence, earlier post
Page 14 of 149: "Given the SLS Block 1 launch processing manifest (4-5 years with little to no activities), there is a potential of not having sufficiently trained personnel. Issue - Yellow (May require personnel with advanced skills not readily available)"
Page 8 of 111: "The developmental approach for the SLSP, consisting of 2 exploratory missions years apart, followed years later by the operations phase, presents unique logistics challenges."
"Engineers testing the parachute system for NASA's Orion spacecraft increased the complexity of their tests Thursday, Jan. 16, adding the jettison of hardware designed to keep the capsule safe during flight. The test was the first to give engineers in-air data on the performance of the system that jettisons Orion's forward bay cover. The cover is a shell that fits over Orion's crew module to protect the spacecraft during launch, orbital flight and re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. When Orion returns from space, the cover must come off before the spacecraft's parachutes can deploy. It must be jettisoned high above the ground in order for the parachutes to unfurl."
"Engineers and safety specialists from NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) gathered in Morro Bay, Calif., in late December to demonstrate how the company's Dragon spacecraft's parachute system would function in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent. The test was part of an optional milestone under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative and approved by the agency in August."
Continued Victories for Planetary Exploration, Planetary Society
"The book is not closed on 2014. Now that NASA has its money, it has to spend it. It does this through its operating plan, where the agency can make minor adjustments to project funding based on programmatic needs. Last year NASA abused this process and tried to shift all additional money allocated for Planetary Science by Congress to unrelated projects. I feel that this is unlikely to happen again, but it's something that we will be watching closely. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes you have to ensure that NASA spends planetary money on planetary projects."
The big problem with the "big win" for NASA's exploration program budget, Houston Chronicle
"Sen. Bill Nelson, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA, and bills himself as "one of the leading architects of a plan to build a new monster rocket and crew capsule for deep space exploration," said of the plan, "This is a big win." NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, also praised the budget deal. This is the same Nelson who along with other congressional leaders and the White House agreed on a budget plan to fund and build the SLS and Orion during the summer of 2010 (see authorizing legislation). In that bill Congress called, for example, in fiscal year 2013 to fund the SLS rocket at a level of $2.64 billion. It received significantly less than that in fiscal year 2013. And one would presume funding along those lines, or more, would be needed as the SLS rocket program was building up toward a 2017 test launch. So what did the government give NASA in the new budget for fiscal year 2014? $1.6 billion."
Keith's note: Let's see what the FY 2015 Budget looks like. Those projects that benefited from the FY 2014 budget may see different news in a few weeks. And some projects that did not benefit in FY 2014 may well do even worse in FY 2015. Alas, everyone seems to be parroting the buzz phrase "flat is the new up". When your budget is supposed to be ramping up, "flat" is a budget cut folks.
Once the dust settles is will become clear that there is still not enough money for everything. Congress is going to fund SLS/Orion no matter what the White House or NASA wants them to do and they will raid commercial crew and technology budgets to do so. And when Congress realizes that even more money for SLS is needed it will go back and take more. The asteroid mission is one step away from dead as far as Congress is concerned. Commercial crew is substantially underfunded and will not be able to continue at NASA's advertised pace of flying its first crew in 2017. And despite all of this, the space science crowd thinks that they are somehow immune from these pressures and should be given more money. They are in for a shock.
"Similar to the OIG's conclusions 5 years ago, the OIG found that NASA failed to follow its internal policies or its agreement with the DOD when it decided to spend approximately $352 million to refurbish and test the SLS core stage on the B-2 test stand at Stennis. Moreover, the OIG found that NASA did not adequately support its decision given that refurbishing the B-2 stand will be more costly and take longer than two other possible options: an Air Force test stand at Edwards Air Force Base in California and a test stand at the Marshall Space Flight Center. In addition, although SLS Program managers spent considerable time and money studying the B-2 option, they gave the joint NASA-DOD testing board minimal time to assess the cost, schedule, and risks of the other test stand options."
NASA OIG: Final Memorandum on the Review of NASA's Plan to Build the A-3 Facility for Rocket Propulsion Testing (2008)
"We found that NASA's Upper Stage Engine (USE) Element Manager, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, reviewed the J-2X rocket propulsion testing options and selected the A-3 test stand to be built at Stennis without the required formal reviews or recommendations of the NRPTA, or NASA's RPTMB."
"NASA will complete a $350 million tower to test rocket engines for a program that was canceled in 2010. The A-3 test stand will be finished early this year at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Its funding survived thanks to Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from that state who supported the test stand's completion even though NASA doesn't need it."
"Congress ordered NASA to complete a $350 million rocket-testing structure that may never be used, Bloomberg News reports. The 300-foot tower at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was designed to test how the Ares I and Ares V engines would work at high altitudes, for rockets under development that would send people into space and up to the moon. But the project was scrapped after the Constellation program spearheaded by former President George W. Bush was cancelled in 2010."
"Federal watchdogs today criticized NASA for spending $352 million to refurbish a Mississippi test stand for critical upcoming tests on the Space Launch System when cheaper test stands were available faster in Huntsville and California. NASA responded by admitting it didn't follow its own rules and agreements, but "is confident it made the right decision."
Keith's note: According to a release issued today: "The Science, Space, and Technology Committee today approved three bills with bipartisan support. ... Prior to debate on a fourth bill [H.R. 3625] offered by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), the Committee recessed subject to the call of the Chair. Chairman Smith indicated that he expects the Committee to reconvene to consider the bill next week."
Full Bill information (note the cosponsors).
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is going to join the party and will introduce an amendment to give the Webb Space Telescope the same protection against cancellation as SLS and Orion would get under this bill. Think of all the large contracts that will soon be voided and what this means for the way in which NASA engages in contracting for future programs - to say nothing of the contingencies that won't be in place in case a program runs into trouble - and the decreased flexibility the agency will have to manage its finances.
Rep. Brooks is submitting an amendment that says "Page 5, line 6, insert "If the Administration terminates a covered program for the convenience of the Government, then the Administration is responsible for payment of all termination liability costs." after "such prime contracts." In other words, the government accepts all the responsibility and lets the SLS and Orion prime contractors off the hook when it comes to termination costs. This bill only affects the prime contractors. None of the subcontractors get anything out of it i.e. ATK, Aerojet etc. Indeed, they are left holding the bag as far as their potential termination costs are concerned. I have to wonder what CBO will say when it scores this bill and what the Budget Committee might have to say. This bill sets a precedent that could spread across the government.
If passed into law, H.R. 3625 would make it exceptionally difficult to ever halt SLS, Orion, or Webb or to adjust funds internally by treating them in a way that is utterly different than other NASA programs. Indeed it would make these programs into Zombies that can never be killed. Here's an excerpt:
"NASA/JSC has a requirement for Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) Cockpit Prototyping Phase 4 research and development (R&D). The objective of the Phase 4 work is to provide human machine interface R&D for defining CEV cockpit layout requirements, displays, and controls rapid prototyping using iterative interaction."
Keith's update: "CEV" (Crew Exploration Vehicle) is not a term that has been used for nearly a decade. "CEV" became "Orion" under Constellation. Then Orion went away when NASA cancelled it. Then it quickly came back as "MPCV" which quickly reverted to "MPCV/Orion" and then simply "Orion". Now we're back to "CEV".
"[Wayne] Hale outlined a mixed bag of NASA successes in wake of the Apollo moon missions, noting that the agency has languished for almost 40 years as different visions for NASA have died amid a lack of funding. The current Space Launch System - a heavy lift rocket under development at Huntsville's Marshall Flight Center intended for deep space exploration - could soon fade away like other programs, such as Constellation in 2009. "The current plan is fragile in the political and financial maelstrom that is Washington," Hale said. "Planning to fly large rockets once every three or four years does not make a viable program. It is not sustainable. "Continuing to develop programs in the same old ways, from my observations, will certainly lead to cancellation as government budgets are stretched thin. It is time to try new strategies."
Keith's note: Wayne Hale just posted this comment: "It was not my intention to imply that SLS/Orion should be cancelled. Far from it. The entire purpose of my speech was a call to action for the community - government and industry - to initiate the kind of revolutionary change in management systems and financial resources that will be necessary for any new space efforts to succeed. No program will succeed these days - large rockets or small rockets, moon or mars or asteroids - without radical improvements in management techniques. We will have to be as innovative in management and finance as we are in engineering."
I am a little confused. If Hale's comments are reported accurately in the original article, then he said "Planning to fly large rockets once every three or four years does not make a viable program. It is not sustainable." This is exactly what SLS program plans to do. If this approach is not "viable" or "sustainable" wouldn't the prudent course of action be to cancel the program? The only alternative would be to fly the SLS more often (I guess) but there is not going to be the money to do that. Not even close. So ... (again if Hale was quoted accurately) cancellation would be the only course of action to take - if one agreed with what Hale said. Or is a program that is not "viable" or "sustainable" worthy of continued funding?
As for Hale's NASAWatch posting, how is a change in management systems going to make SLS any better if it only launches "every three or four years"? Good management is not going to make a badly planned program any better -- other than to make it more efficient in being badly planned, I suppose.
NASA's J-2X Engine To Be Mothballed After Testing, Aviation Week
"NASA's J-2X engine, once considered the pacing item for the next U.S. human-rated rocket, will go on the shelf after development testing wraps up next year because it will be years before the engine is needed to push humans toward Mars. While the agency is actively seeking other missions for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) in the planetary science and military arenas, most of the human flights it has in sight for the big new rocket probably can be accomplished with an upper stage powered by the RL-10 engine instead of the J-2X. "The J-2X for certain [design reference missions] is somewhat overpowered," said Todd May, NASA's SLS program manager."
"NASA/MSFC has a requirement for the design, development, test, and evaluation (DDT&E) of an engine to support the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) Upper Stage and the Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) Earth Departure Stage (EDS). The engine, a J-2 (Saturn Heritage engine) derivative, will be a 250,000 pound thrust class human-rated engine and is planned to support a human launch of the CLV in 2012."
"Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), a United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) company, was awarded a NASA contract valued at $1.2 billion to design, development and test a J-2X engine that will power the upper stages of the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles."
NASA Will Face Solomon's Choice in 2014, Dennis Wingo
"If a budget in the range of $16.6 billion is what happens NASA will have a major problem maintaining both the International Space Station (ISS) and the SLS/Orion Exploration program. Given that the funds are simply not going to be available to keep the ISS alive and functioning and to fully construct and operate the SLS/Orion system, something has to give. Are we going to have to kill one to insure the other's survival? That is the choice that that is presenting itself - a clear recipe for disaster as far as NASA's human space flight plans are concerned."
"Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman try out a prototype display and control system inside an Orion spacecraft mockup at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston during the first ascent and abort simulations for the program.
For the first time, NASA astronauts are practicing a launch into space aboard the agency's Orion spacecraft, and provided feedback on the new capsule's cockpit design."
"In contrast to procurement, the agencies indicate that together their need for RDT&E funding will decrease during the same period. NASA's expected RDT&E launch funding requirements outpace DOD's, with the agency planning to spend about $10.5 billion for launch-related development from fiscal years 2014 through 2018. Of that amount, NASA anticipates the need for approximately $7 billion for the development of its own deep space launch vehicle known as the Space Launch System, and the associated ground systems, to support human deep space exploration."
New NASA rocket faces delays, Orlando Sentinel
"Lori Garver, leaving NASA after four years as deputy administrator, said NASA and Congress long have oversold the agency's ability to build the rocket, called the Space Launch System, and its Orion capsule on an annual budget of roughly $3 billion. "It's very clear that we could have slips of a year or two," said Garver, referring to both the 2017 launch -- which won't have a crew -- and the first planned flight of NASA astronauts aboard the SLS rocket in 2021. "People are more optimistic than ... reality," she said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel."
"So what you've got is a beast of a rocket, that would give you all of this capability, which you can't build because you don't have the money to build it in the first place, and you can't operate it if you had it."
Sunday conversation: NASA veteran Chris Kraft upfront with criticism, Chris Kraft, Houston Chronicle
"The problem with the SLS is that it's so big that makes it very expensive. It's very expensive to design, it's very expensive to develop. When they actually begin to develop it, the budget is going to go haywire. They're going to have all kinds of technical and development issues crop up, which will drive the development costs up. Then there are the operating costs of that beast, which will eat NASA alive if they get there. They're not going to be able to fly it more than once a year, if that, because they don't have the budget to do it. So what you've got is a beast of a rocket, that would give you all of this capability, which you can't build because you don't have the money to build it in the first place, and you can't operate it if you had it."
"But Kraft's harshest words are directed right where they should be: at the top. "Bolden," said Kraft of NASA administrator Charles Bolden, "doesn't know what it takes to do a major project. He doesn't have experience with that. He's never known what it takes to do a massive program. He keeps talking about going to Mars in the 2030s, but that's pure, unadulterated, BS."
"For example, the MPCV Program is beginning to experience testing delays that could result in schedule interruptions and cost increases down the road. Specifically, test dates have slipped 4 years on the Ascent Abort-2 test and 9 months on the Exploration Flight Test-1. NASA has also delayed development of many of the life support systems required for crewed missions. Similarly, reliance on timely progress of the SLS and GSDO programs and the ESA for the Service Module adds risk that is outside the control of the Program and could have a negative impact on the MPCV and NASA's overall exploration mission goals. Moreover, even after the MPCV is fully developed and ready to transport crew, NASA will continue to face significant challenges concerning the long-term sustainability of its human exploration program. For example, unless the Agency begins a program to develop landers and surface systems, NASA astronauts will be limited to orbital missions using the MPCV. Under the current budget environment, it appears unlikely that NASA will obtain significant funding to begin development of additional exploration hardware, thereby delaying such development into the 2020s."
"NASA has releases new artist concepts of the SLS and Orion spacecraft including being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida."
"NASA has achieved a major milestone in its effort to build the nation's next heavy-lift launch vehicle by successfully completing the Space Launch System (SLS) preliminary design review.
Senior experts and engineers from across the agency concluded Wednesday the design, associated production and ground support plans for the SLS heavy-lift rocket are technically and programmatically capable of fulfilling the launch vehicle's mission objectives. NASA is developing the SLS and Orion spacecraft to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, with the flexibility to launch spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, including to an asteroid and Mars."
"NASA is defending its Space Launch System against a new analysis arguing that SLS is too expensive to fly and is "draining away the lifeblood - funding - of the space program."
"I understand the premise of the article," NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Dan Dumbacher told al.com and The Huntsville Times in a July 23 interview, "but I think we need to realize there's a broader set of trades that really form up the decision process."
Dumbacher referred to "Revisting SLS/Orion launch costs" by John Strickland published July 15 on the website The Space Review. Strickland is a member of the board of directors of the National Space Society, but wrote the article independently."
Update: The Congressional debate over NASA's asteroid capture mission ignores the ageny's real spaceflight problem, Houston Chronicle
"Being the subject of congressional infighting, of course, does NASA no good. But this battle is a distraction from NASA's real problem, which neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to acknowledge. Namely, the space agency is being tasked with building a huge and powerful rocket it will not be able to afford to fly."
"A complicated, high-altitude test Wednesday demonstrated NASA's new Orion spacecraft could land safely even if one of its parachutes failed.
The 10th in a series of evaluations to check out the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle's parachute system dropped the test capsule from a C-17 aircraft at its highest altitude yet, 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert. One of three massive main parachutes was cut away early on purpose, leaving the spacecraft to land with only two. The test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground was the highest-altitude test of a human spacecraft parachute since NASA's Apollo Program."
Marc's note: Unfortunately the broadcast quality was subpar and barely worth watching.
"Technicians at Textron Defense Systems near Boston are applying Avcoat ablator material to some 330,000 cells of a honeycomb on the heat shield of NASA's new Orion spacecraft. To ensure that each cell is filled correctly, they are individually X-rayed and a robot is used to machine the material, sanding off fractions of an inch so that the heat shield matches Orion's precise plans."
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.
"NASA recently completed a major space technology development milestone by successfully testing a pressurized, large cryogenic propellant tank made of composite materials. The composite tank will enable the next generation of rockets and spacecraft needed for space exploration.
... "These successful tests mark an important milestone on the path to demonstrating the composite cryogenic tanks needed to accomplish our next generation of deep space missions," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This investment in game changing space technology will help enable NASA's exploration of deep space while directly benefiting American industrial capability in the manufacturing and use of composites."
... "The tank manufacturing process represents a number of industry breakthroughs, including automated fiber placement of oven-cured materials, fiber placement of an all-composite tank wall design that is leak-tight and a tooling approach that eliminates heavy-joints," said Dan Rivera, the Boeing cryogenic tank program manager at Marshall."
Nelson warns of partisan "chaos" regarding NASA authorization, Space Politics
"Immediately after the House Science Committee's space subcommittee wrapped up its hearing on a draft NASA authorization bill Wednesday morning, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) offered his views on the subject at a Space Transportation Association luncheon on the other side of Capitol Hill. Nelson, chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, said his committee was working on its own version of a NASA authorization bill that would be ready by mid-July or perhaps sooner, in order to support appropriators."
What we're going to try to mark up is a balanced program," he said, citing progress in both commercial crew development and the Space Launch System and Orion programs, as well as science programs, including the James Webb Space Telescope."
"Engineers developing NASA's next-generation rocket closed one chapter of testing with the completion of a J-2X engine test series on the A-2 test stand at the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and will begin a new chapter of full motion testing on test stand A-1.
... The March 7 test, which set the short-lived duration record, was remarkable for another reason in that it marked the first time a 3-D printed part was hot-fire tested on a NASA engine system.
The prime contractor for the liquid engine, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., built a maintenance port cover for the 10002 engine using an advanced manufacturing process called Selective Laser Melting. This construction method uses lasers to fuse metal dust into a specific pattern to build the needed part."
"NASA is beginning a preliminary design review for its Space Launch System (SLS). This major program assessment will allow development of the agency's new heavy-lift rocket to move from concept to initial design.
The preliminary design review process includes meticulous, detailed analyses of the entire launch vehicle. Representatives from NASA, its contractor partners and experts from across the aerospace industry validate elements of the rocket to ensure they can be safely and successfully integrated.
... We are on track and meeting all the milestones necessary to fly in 2017."
LEO Progress: J-2X to Test Stand A1, NASA Blog (Liquid Rocket Engines)
"Recently, J-2X development engine 10002 was on the road. If you remember, E10002 went through a six-test series on test stand A2 that began in February and finished up in April. The next planned phase of E10002 testing is on test stand A1. In between these series, the engine was back in the assembly area of NASA Stennis Space Center Building 9101.
This respite between test series allowed for a complete series of inspections of the engine hardware. This is vital piece of the learning process for engine development. The basic truth is that a rocket engine is just darn tough on itself when it fires. The reason that we test and test and test is to make sure that our design can stand up to the recurring brutal conditions. The chance to look for the effects of that testing through detailed inspections away from the test stand is an opportunity to collect a great deal of useful information. "
"NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier and other agency officials will debut a new machine for manufacturing NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and check on development progress with the heavy-lift rocket at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Friday, June 21.
NASA is inviting media representatives to attend a 9:15 a.m. CDT ribbon-cutting ceremony for the vertical weld center, where friction-stir weld tooling will be used to assemble the SLS core stage, then join officials on a tour of the SLS assembly area and work in support of NASA's Orion spacecraft."
"NASA is carrying out a series of tests to ensure the agency's Orion spacecraft can successfully jettison its protective fairings, or covers, during its ride to space. During the first of these tests, two of the three fairing panels separated as planned, but a third didn't."
"Technicians from Janicki Industries in Hamilton, Wash., work in collaboration with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to build part of the Space Launch System, NASA's next-generation launch vehicle."
"They are specifically working on a diaphragm for the Multipurpose Crew Vehicle Stage Adapter (MSA). Joint efforts between NASA and Janicki Industries enable engineers to verify proper functioning of this part of the SLS vehicle with the Orion spacecraft during its first mission -- Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) -- scheduled to launch in 2014."
"NASA plans to begin testing RS-25 engines for its new Space Launch System (SLS) in the fall of 2014, and the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi has a very big -- literally -- item to complete on the preparation checklist.
Fabrication recently began at Stennis on a new 7,755-pound thrust frame adapter for the A-1 Test Stand to enable testing of the engines that will provide core-stage power for NASA's SLS. The stand component is scheduled to be completed and installed by November 2013."
"Another concern Squyres stressed is the low flight rate for the Space Launch System (SLS). "I'm deeply worried," he told Edwards, because no other human spaceflight system has had such a low anticipated launch rate. The first SLS launch is expected in 2017, the second in 2021, and then once every two years thereafter. SLS and the Orion spacecraft need to be adequately funded "to be proven out on a pace that really supports ... a safe pathway" to cis-lunar space, Squyres insisted. Cooke agreed. The flight rate is driven "totally" by funding, he said, and "they definitely need more funding ... starting with inflation." NASA's budget is currently projected to be flat, with no adjustment for inflation, which erodes buying power as the years pass."
Faster, NASA, Faster, opinion, Ed Lu, NY Times (2009)
"In the 12 years before I left NASA in 2007, we averaged about four space shuttle launchings per year. We had periods when the rate was even lower: in the late '90s, during the early construction phase of the International Space Station, and in 2003, in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. I saw firsthand the harm that low launching rates do to innovation. With precious few flights, every available opportunity to test new equipment or run scientific investigations was filled for years into the future, and this discouraged engineers from trying out new ideas. Without actual flight test data on, for example, prototypes for new life-support equipment, management was forced to substitute analysis for real engineering experience."
"In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA; 42 United States Code 4321 et seq.), Council on Environmental Quality NEPA implementing regulations (40 Code of Federal Regulations parts 1500 to 1508), and FAA Order 1050.1E, Change 1, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, the FAA is announcing the availability of the ROD to issue a reentry license to Lockheed Martin Corporation for the reentry of the Orion MPCV from Earth orbit to a location in the Pacific Ocean."
Continued Sequestration Will Short-Circuit SLS, Aviation Week
"Mikulski and Shelby consider that budget request inadequate, particularly in the funding for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) that is intended to take humans beyond low Earth orbit. NASA wants $820 million to keep at least two competitors in the running for a commercial route to the International Space Station, but many lawmakers would like to see $300 million of that transferred into the $1.385 billion SLS request for fiscal 2014."
"NASA has awarded a contract to J.P. Donovan Construction Inc. of Rockledge, Fla., to modify the mobile launcher that will enable the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket to send humans to an asteroid, Mars and other new destinations in the solar system. The work under this firm fixed-price $20.7 million contract will begin in June and be completed in 18 months."
- NASA KSC Solicitation: Construction of Constellation Crew Launch Vehicle Mobile Launcher (2007)
- NASA Awards Contract for Ares I Mobile Launcher (2008)
- Space Shuttle Program Hands over Launch Platform to Constellation (2009)
- NASA OIG: NASA's Plans to Modify the Ares I Mobile Launcher in Support of the Space Launch System (2012)
"People that say there are other options, or other ways to get beyond low Earth orbit -- it's just not a fact, it's just not true. There are technologies you could develop that would be years and years in the future ... but SLS gives you the capability to do that much, much quicker." [John] Shannon, who spent 25 years at NASA before joining Boeing in January, pointedly dismissed the idea that NASA has to identify a specific destination and mission for SLS to make the big rocket worthwhile. "This 'SLS doesn't have a mission' is a smokescreen that's been put out there by people who would like to see that [program's] budget go to their own pet projects," Shannon said. "SLS is every mission beyond low Earth orbit. The fact that NASA has not picked one single mission is kind of irrelevant."
Keith's note: If NASA cannot spend the time to figure out what this monster rocket's destination(s) should be, then how can you possibly justify building the rocket in the first place? Don't the people paying for this rocket deserve at least a little preparatory homework on NASA's part? The Space Station suffered from a cohesive mission for decades and we all know how that drove costs out of sight. As for "pet projects" - hmm, let's see: Shuttle Sidemount and L2 Gateway anyone? This notion that John Shannon seems to be suffering from - that only NASA has the technology that can send things beyond low Earth orbit - now - is demonstrable nonsense. Falcon 9 could do it right now - if SpaceX had a customer to pay them to do it.
"The ship would capture the 500-ton, 25-foot asteroid in 2019. Then using an Orion space capsule, a crew of about four astronauts would nuzzle up next to the rock in 2021 for spacewalking exploration, according to a government document obtained by The Associated Press."
NASA Asteroid Capture Mission: First Real Step in Utilizing Extraterrestrial Resources, SpaceRef earlier post
"Charlie Bolden made his cryptic comments at the NAS in December 2012: "when the President announced that an asteroid would be the next destination for NASA's human spaceflight program, he did not say NASA had to fly all the way to an asteroid. What matters is the ability to put humans with an asteroid.". Well, Bolden was referring to this idea which was still in flux as part of the budget process."
"NASA is about to get a chance to try something totally new: instead of just visting or landing on things in space, it is going to go grab something huge and bring it back to Earth. Details will be formally announced on 10 April 2013 when the new budget is rolled out. The fact that we are now capable of going out and grabbing an asteroid and moving it to a place that we have chosen signals the first major step in the utilization of extraterrestrial resources by human civilization. We are embarking on the rearrangement of our solar system to better suit human needs. That's a paradigm shift folks."
Keith's note: After interaction with/pressure from NASA JSC and MSFC Inspiration Mars is now considering use of single launch of SLS for their mission. Of course, the use of SLS for Inspiration Mars is problematic if a 2018 launch is required. And even if the launch happens would NASA allow it to be used on on of the very first flights for a mission that many inside NASA think is risky - with no real ability to bail out? This is not the same NASA that did Apollo 8 on the third Saturn V flight. As for what this would cost Mr. Tito - that's anyone's guess. What is the commercial price for a SLS launch? I am not certain NASA has even considered that. How do you calculate that price - the same way that the Shuttle commercial launches were priced? We've seen that movie before. Oh yes: there is the pesky little matter of public law that prohibits NASA from offering serrvices on a commercial basis that compete with services that the private sector can offer. Stay Tuned.
"A bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee budget for the rest of fiscal year 2013 continues strong funding for NASA's Space Launch System and calls on the agency to speed up its construction. The measure released by committee leadership Monday night gives the overall SLS program $2.1 billion for the rest of the fiscal year, including $260 million for ground-related launch support construction, and also provides $515 million for NASA's commercial crew program."
"This Act includes $17,862,000,000 for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A table of specific funding allocations for NASA is delineated below, and additional detail may be found under the relevant account headings."
"We continue to hear that the SLS/MPCV system will serve as a back-up for Earth-to-orbit transportation in the unlikely event that none of the other systems in development are successful. Last year's request for this "back-up system" was more than 300% of the appropriated level of the primary system. By acting on this type of faulty logic, we have created a national debt as large as our GDP and still our nation refuses to take its foot off the deficit spending accelerator. SLS is unaffordable, and with relatively modest expenditures on specific technology development, we do not need a heavy lift vehicle of that class to explore the Moon, Mars, or near-Earth asteroids."
"While NASA's Commercial Crew program could be the primary means of transporting American astronauts, we cannot be solely reliant on this program. The Orion MPCV, Space Launch System, and Commercial Crew programs require a program track with a sufficient budget to support the Space Station as soon as possible in preparation for the next steps of human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit and ensure American preeminence in space."
Keith's note: It would seem that the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have a fundamental disagreement when it comes to the implementation of NASA's human and commercial space flight priorities.
"During a speech today at the Washington Update Luncheon at the Von Braun Center, Brooks spoke in encouraging terms when asked what impact the budget cuts, known as sequestration, would have on Marshall Space Flight Center. Brooks began his answer by saying he had breakfast today with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who talked recently with Robert Lightfoot - the former director of Marshall who last year was promoted to associate administrator at NASA. "I think Marshall, based on the information I'm getting from Mayor Battle and elsewhere, is going to survive sequestration a little bit better than most of the centers around the country," Brooks said. "Time will tell if that's the way it plays out." It puts NASA in a somewhat unique position, given that the space agency has been a target in recent years of budget cuts and canceled programs."
"You requested the Technical Performance Metrics (TPM) presented to SLS senior management on a monthly basis for TPMs created during Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. The documents requested contain export-controlled information and are being withheld in their entirety pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3)."
"ESA agreed with NASA today to contribute a driving force to the Orion spacecraft planned for launch in 2017. Ultimately, Orion will carry astronauts further into space than ever before using a module based on Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle technology. Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) have been resupplying the International Space Station since 2008. The fourth in the series, ATVAlbert Einstein, is being readied for launch next year from Kourou, French Guiana."
"NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will hold a news briefing at 10:30 a.m. CST on Wednesday, Jan. 16, to discuss the details of a recent agreement for ESA to provide a service module for the Orion spacecraft's Exploration Mission-1 in 2017. NASA Television will carry the briefing live from the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston."
Obama failed space program; Romney would revitalize it, opinon, Gene Cernan, Orlando Sentinel
"Frankly, the world's leading space-faring nation shouldn't have to pay Russia for rides to the International Space Station. That's not only an insult to the hundreds of women and men like me who have built a legacy based on, literally, reaching for the stars, but it also hurts the local economy and puts local jobs at risk at a time when Florida's unemployment rate is already higher than the national average."
Keith's note: With all due respect, Gene, a little history lesson (not that you care): when George Bush decided to shut down the Space Shuttle program in 2004, there was a blatant and openly admitted gap in American human access to space that no American spacecraft - Constellation or otherwise - would have met under even the most optimistic scenarios until 2014-2018 (that date constantly slipped). Your good friend and ghostwriter Mike Griffin openly admitted that repeatedly. George Bush set us on the path to paying Russia to gain access to the ISS - regardless of what timeline you chose to refer to. He then proceeded to underfund Constellation and did not push Congress for funding so as to make it incapable of achieving its avowed goals.
Under the plans now in place for NASA's commercial crew programs, there will likely be indigenous American access to space sooner than Mike Griffin would ever have achieved with his bloated, underfunded, and oft-delayed Constellation program. Let me suggest that you check your facts before you embarrass yourself further.
"NASA has awarded three contracts totaling $137.3 million to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for the Space Launch System (SLS). The awardees will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for a future version of the SLS, a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit."
"The OIG found that NASA's decision to modify the Ares I Mobile Launcher is technically feasible and the most cost-effective option for launching at least the initial versions of the SLS vehicles. However, further assessment of planned modifications to the Mobile Launcher will be needed as the SLS continues to evolve and its design solidifies."
"The purpose of the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics is to examine on-going development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion capsule and related systems, as well as discuss how these technologies can be used for future scientific missions."
"During the test, a C-130 airplane dropped a dart-shaped test vehicle with a simulated Orion parachute compartment from an altitude of 25,000 feet. Orion's drogue chutes were deployed at approximately 20,000 feet, followed by small pilot chutes, which then deployed the three main parachutes. Each of the main parachutes is 116 feet wide and weighs more than 300 pounds."
"SLS reached this major milestone less than 10 months after the program's inception. The combination of the two assessments represents a fundamentally different way of conducting NASA program reviews. The SLS team is streamlining processes to provide the nation with a safe, affordable and sustainable heavy-lift launch vehicle capability. The next major program milestone is the preliminary design review, targeted for late next year."
Keith's note: Of course no mention is made by NASA of all the previous work (and considerable expense) that was put into Ares 1 and Ares V - which supposedly supported much of the current SLS design. NASA never mentions these "other" programs - and what they cost - and yet tries to make it sound like they just pulled off a neat low-cost/high speed trick - the same way the advertised "low" cost of Mars Phoenix never took actual Mars Polar Lander development costs into account.
Rocket companies hope to repurpose Saturn 5 engines, Spaceflight Now
"Dynetics and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne announced Wednesday they are teaming up to resurrect the Saturn 5 rocket's mighty F-1 engine to power NASA's planned heavy-lift launch vehicle, saying the Apollo-era engine will offer significantly more performance than solid-fueled boosters currently under development."
NASA Will Explore F-1 Upgrade For Heavy Lifter, Aviation Week
"The powerful rocket engine developed in the 1960s to launch the first men to the Moon could be reprised in the 2020s as the powerplant for strap-on boosters that NASA hopes to use in heavy-lift human missions to Mars."
"NASA has selected six proposals to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for the Space Launch System (SLS). The awardees will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for SLS, a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit."
"A high-altitude test of the Orion deep-space capsule's launch abort system could be delayed two years [FY 2018] to accommodate the tighter program budgets anticipated by NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin."
"I just hope that there will no longer be budget proposals from the President, whoever that will be next year, that will appear to cut back on the future and fund the present because we have an authorization bill that assures both, we support both," Sen. Hutchison said at the hearing."
"Based on the availability of funding and industry performance, this strategy allows for adjustments in program scope, and enables a domestic capability to transport crewmembers to the ISS likely by 2017, based on the readiness of U.S. commercial providers to achieve NASA certification."
Keith's note: If the Orion abort test doesn't happen until FY 2018, then what does this mean for using Orion to take crews to the ISS? NASA plans for using the ISS now end in CY 2020. If Orion delays continue, commercial crew service providers could reach the ISS well before Orion can. How can Orion provide the "capability to be a backup system for International Space Station cargo and crew delivery" if commercial crew carriers fly well before Orion flies? As such, why is Orion/SLS being designed with the capability of going to the ISS in the first place?
"The nation's space exploration program is taking a critical step forward with a successful major technical review of the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before."
"Boeing last week successfully completed its first major technical reviews for the cryogenic stages of the Space Launch System (SLS), bringing the team into the design phase for the nation's next heavy-lift, human-rated rocket."
Keith's note: Alas, NASA has no budget for the payloads that would fly on this rocket, no firm destination(s) identified, and no rationale offered as to how this rocket will be cheaper than using commercial alternatives.
Space Launch System is a threat to JSC, Texas jobs, Chris Kraft and Tom Moser, Houston Chronicle
"SLS is killing JSC. SLS is killing Texas jobs. SLS is killing our national space agenda. We are wasting billions of dollars per year on SLS. There are cheaper and nearer term approaches for human space exploration that use existing launch vehicles. A multicenter NASA team has completed a study on how we can return humans to the surface of the moon in the next decade with existing launch vehicles and within the existing budget. This NASA plan, which NASA leadership is trying to hide, would save JSC and create thousands of jobs in Texas. It is time for Texas' elected members of Congress to wake up and do something about it before it is too late."
SLS Will Never 'Back Up' Commercial Crew, Jim Muncy, Space News
"One such argument is the claim from both houses of Congress that the funding for the Space Launch System (SLS) -- which increases from the 2012 level -- is too small to enable the SLS to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) as a backup for commercial crew services. Some even suggest that NASA is putting too much money into the legislatively stipulated primary means of carrying astronauts to and from the international space station (commercial crew) and therefore shortchanging the backup (SLS). Of course, NASA is spending nearly four times as much on Orion and SLS as it is on commercial crew, so the argument appears lopsided."
"A few years ago, back when the Constellation Program was still alive, NASA engineers discovered that the Ares I rocket had a crucial flaw, one that could have jeopardized the entire project. They panicked. They plotted. They steeled themselves for the hundreds of millions of dollars it was going to take to make things right. And then they found out how to fix it for the cost of an extra value meal."
Expensive NASA rocket draws skepticism, Houston Chronicle
"As engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama begin designing a rocket that would eventually be capable of blasting 130 metric tons into orbit, many spaceflight experts are questioning why NASA chose what could be the most expensive and riskiest approach to expanding the human spaceflight program beyond low-Earth orbit. "I'm very skeptical about the heavy-lift rocket," said Chris Kraft, NASA's first manned spaceflight director and the director of flight operations during the Apollo 11 mission."
"United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that Mike Leinbach has joined the company as the Director of Human Spaceflight Operations. "We are fortunate to have Mike with his wealth of human spaceflight experience join the ULA team," said George Sowers, ULA's vice president of Business Development. "His background in leading overall space shuttle launch activities for more than a decade, executing 37 space shuttle launches, will be invaluable as we develop human spaceflight capabilities for our Atlas and Delta systems."
NASA Solicitation: Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (Space Launch System)
"NASA/MSFC is hereby seeking potential sources to provide an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for the early Space Launch System (SLS) missions. Recently, NASA announced the architecture of the SLS with a manifested first flight in late 2017. The early flights of the SLS architecture will require the use of an ICPS to ensure the placement of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and/or Payload on the required trajectory. In order to support the flight schedule, the initial ICPS flight unit must be delivered to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) no later than late in the fourth quarter of the 2016 government fiscal year (GFY). The second flight unit must be delivered to KSC by the fourth quarter of the 2020 GFY. NASA is seeking in-space propulsion capabilities with performance data that can meet its schedule and funding constraints."
NASA, Industry Leaders Discuss New Booster Development for Space Launch System (with presentation charts)
"On Dec. 15, more than 120 aerospace industry leaders from more than 70 companies attended the Space Launch System's Advanced Booster Industry Day held at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The event focused on a NASA Research Announcement for the Space Launch System's (SLS) advanced booster. For explorations beyond the first two test flights, the SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with a significant increase in thrust over existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters."
NASA cost, denial key to saving space program, Florida Today
"Perhaps the single biggest threat to the nation's space program in the next decade is the repeated, rampant multi-billion dollar cost overruns that plague big NASA projects. The senior leaders of NASA and its big contractors repeatedly deliver projects billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. And to add insult to taxpayers' injury, they revise history to obscure the truth. The James Webb Space Telescope, the scientifically important successor to Hubble Space Telescope, is going to somehow get support from Congress despite its explosive price tag, well documented mismanagement and half-decade launch delay."
Keith's note: "Rampant multi-billion dollar cost overruns"? Hmmm ... Sounds like Constellation to me - and what SLS risks becoming given the murkiness regarding NASA's support and inadequate budgetary resources. But wait - CxP and SLS = jobs for Florida Today readers. As such, only Webb Space Telescope is painted as a threat in this regard - not SLS.
- Large NASA Programs: Located In Florida = "Jobs", Out of State = "Boondoggle, Pork", earlier post
- Florida: No Space Pork Here - Only In Virginia, earlier post
- NASA Money Sponge Update, earlier post
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) intends to issue a Draft NASA Research Announcement (NRA) on or about in the December 12, 2011, entitled "Space Launch System (SLS) Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction" for comment by industry through January 13, 2012."
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) will be holding an Industry Day at the MSFC for the SLS Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction activity. The Industry Day will be held December 15, 2011."
United Launch Alliance Completes Crucial Milestone Toward Certifying Atlas V for Human Spaceflight
"ULA has successfully completed the second required major performance milestone of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Unfunded Space Act Agreement. The Design Equivalency Review (DER) completes a rigorous assessment of the flight-proven Atlas V launch vehicle's compliance with NASA human spaceflight requirements. Three of the four current NASA CCDev partners providing commercial crew integrated services have selected Atlas V as their launch vehicle."
NASA budget erratic, Florida Today
"The good news for Kennedy Space Center and Brevard is in the form of a major investment in a new super rocket and Orion crew spaceship, publicly run rather than privately developed, but destined to be prepared and launched from here. Funding for both projects is solidly in place and will help stabilize jobs at the spaceport now and create potentially thousands more in the coming half-decade. ..."
"... The boondoggle James Webb Space Telescope was kept alive -- and provided a multibillion-dollar taxpayer bailout -- as politicians gave up on empty threats to finally cancel the latest NASA project to blow its budget and schedule. The telescope, an important science mission worthy of completion, is devouring so much of the NASA budget that other good work is being delayed or canceled."
Florida: No Space Pork Here - Only In Virginia, earlier post
Guest Blog: Apollo's Spirit Alive and Well, Andrew Chaikin, Space News
"Four decades later the challenge is not just to follow Apollo's trail into deep space, but to do it affordably and sustainably. That's not going to happen if NASA continues to be run as a jobs program as much as a space program. These are the things I think about when I hear people like my manager friend say that commercial companies should be patient and wait for the fruits of NASA's experience to spin off to the private sector. They apparently don't see that this spinoff has already happened, that companies like SpaceX have digested the collected wisdom of NASA's first half-century and are building on it. And they are doing so with a boldness that could be game-changing -- even for heavy-lift launchers. The spirit of Apollo is alive and well, if only NASA and Congress would allow it to flourish."
"NASA conducted a successful 500-second test firing of the J-2X rocket engine on Wednesday, Nov. 9, marking another important step in development of an upper stage for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS). Data from the test will be analyzed as operators prepare for additional engine firings. The J-2X and the RS-25D/E engines for the SLS core stage will be tested for flight certification at Stennis. Both engines use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. The core stage engines were developed originally for the space shuttle."
"This Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions."
"EFT-1 flight test objectives are focused on demonstrating beyond low earth orbit (BEO) spacecraft capabilities. The flight conditions required for EFT-1 were selected to demonstrate integrated vehicle performance for ascent, on-orbit flight, and a high-energy re-entry profile of approximately 30,280 feet per second from BEO."
Propellant Depots Instead of Heavy Lift?, opinion, By Michael D. Griffin and Scott Pace, Space News
"The most reasonable claim made in support of fuel depots is that if they are employed to the exclusion of a heavy lifter, one saves the cost of building the heavy lifter. This is certainly true -- but then we do not have a heavy lifter!"
Keith's note: Hilarious. Griffin and Pace cannot see through their own tired, myopic, Apollo on Steroids rhetoric. If you save the cost of building a heavy lifter then you SAVE MONEY. Get it? you SAVE MONEY. You can can use that money that you were going to spend on monster rockets to buy EXISTING ROCKETS to create the fuel depot and other aspects of a cislunar infrastructure. You then utilize that same existing commercial launch capability to accomplish what you only thought possible with the heavy lift behemoths you seem so chronically addicted to. The only reason NASA is building SLS right now is because Congress i.e. the space states misses your Ares V and all the jobs it created/saved. They do not seem to care if there is no money provided for payloads to fly on these rockets. This is certainly not about efficiency.
"The mayors point out that both cities have already lost jobs because of the end of the shuttle program and cancellation of the Constellation space exploration projects. Meanwhile, a number of components of the SLS are built and await completion of the rockets and trips into space."
Fueling Stations vs. Monster Rocket, Dana Rohrabacher, Space News
"At the end of our July 12 House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing, "A Review of NASA's Space Launch System," I asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about the relative cost of using the technology of on-orbit propellant depots instead of relying on new large heavy-lift launch vehicles. He replied that he believed the studies had been done, and the fuel depot solution proved to be more expensive, and promised to get me the full answer. As of this writing, I am still waiting for that answer. It has been more than three months, and NASA has not provided any analysis, or any data at all, that shows why depots are not a good solution or why they are more expensive."
"How is NASA approaching the challenge of building a multibillion-rocket in the tightest Washington budget environment in years? "We run till apprehended," one top manager said in Huntsville Tuesday morning. Dumbacher's comment was a joking ice-breaker, but his humor and that of others Tuesday morning was a way for top NASA administrators to acknowledge they're not sure what the budget process will bring, but they are optimistic about the ultimate outcome and they're going to move forward as hard and as quickly as they can with the funds available."
Keith's note: As you can see from these charts taken (out of context) from the 13 July 2010 NASA HEFT presentation "EELV Capacity Analysis", NASA clearly did quite a bit of comparison and contrast between various existing expendable launch vehicles - foreign and domestic - analyses that did not always include use of a SLS-class heavy launch vehicle. Indeed, one chart is titled "International Partners Have Lots of Capacity". The rest of this presentation contains procurement-sensitive information and will not be published here.
That said, it is obvious that even a year ago pragmatic thought was given to how a variety of launchers could be used for human, cargo, and other launch purposes including ways that mission profiles (DRM 4) usually associated with a HLV could be accomplished in whole or in part by the use of expendable launch vehicles. A more detailed look at what was being reviewed last year can be found at "Human Exploration Framework Team Presentation Online".
- NASA Studies Show Cheaper Alternatives to SLS, earlier post
- Using Commercial Launchers and Fuel Depots Instead of HLVs", earlier post
- The HLV Cost Information NASA Decided Not To Give To Congress, earlier post
This presentation "Propellant Depot Requirements Study - Status Report - HAT Technical Interchange Meeting - July 21, 2011" is a distilled version of a study buried deep inside of NASA. The study compared and contrasted an SLS/SEP architecture with one based on propellant depots for human lunar and asteroid missions. Not only was the fuel depot mission architecture shown to be less expensive, fitting within expected budgets, it also gets humans beyond low Earth orbit a decade before the SLS architecture could.
Moreover, supposed constraints on the availability of commercial launch alternatives often mentioned by SLS proponents, was debunked. In addition, clear integration and performance advantages to the use of commercial launchers Vs SLS was repeatedly touted as being desirable: "breaking costs into smaller, less-monolithic amounts allows great flexibility in meeting smaller and changing budget profiles."
- Using Commercial Launchers and Fuel Depots Instead of HLVs" (March 2011), earlier post
- The HLV Cost Information NASA Decided Not To Give To Congress (January 2011), earlier post
- Discuss this post at the new SpaceRef Forum
"NASA has selected a launch vehicle architecture that includes a large cryogenic (LOX/LH2) Core Stage, an Upper Stage when needed for higher performance missions, high thrust Boosters (initially, using those developed for the Ares I vehicle) for liftoff thrust, using either 3, 4, or 5 RS-25 engines on Core Stage, and using 1, 2, or 3 J-2X engines on Upper Stage. While the launch vehicle configuration will change based upon mission needs for lift performance, the basic design of the Stages will be the same for all missions, with the only change being how many engines will be mounted in the Main Propulsion System of the Core Stage (or Upper Stage) for a given mission. ... The Government does not intend to acquire a commercial item using FAR Part 12."
"NASA/MSFC intends to negotiate only with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) for the SLS Core Stage Engines. This decision is made pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements, which implements the authority for 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1). ... The Government does not intend to acquire a commercial item using FAR Part 12."
"I have serious concerns with NASA's attempt to avoid holding a full and open competition to acquire the SLS. Instead, NASA is considering modifying and/or extending existing contracts for retired or cancelled programs resulting in one or more "de facto sole source awards."
"In a press conference, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations said that the first stage will be designed from the onset to accept a variety or range of strap-on boosters. When asked when that procurement will begin, Gerstenmaier said that this "wIll begin almost immediately - competition begins as soon as we go do this [procurement] activity."
Keith's note: Despite statements by HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier there is little if any evidence that there is any true interest on NASA's part to begin competitive procurement on the SLS any time soon.
"I have serious concerns with NASA's attempt to avoid holding a full and open competition to acquire the SLS. Instead, NASA is considering modifying and/or extending existing contracts for retired or cancelled programs resulting in one or more "de facto sole source awards." Some of these contracts were originally awarded on a sole source basis. I strongly believe that such a de facto sole source award would be a violation of the 1984 Competition in Contracting Act (CICA). GAO has stated: "Under the Competition in Contracting Act, 41 U.S.C. S 253(c)(1), a sole source award may be made only when there is a single responsible source that can satisfy the government's needs." I am aware of multiple potential contractors who have expressed intent to compete for any available SLS contracts, and who should have every opportunity to do so."
"What's going to be different? It's going be disciplined, it's going to be the way we do business and things like using students to help us develop modules, which we did not do before ... really integrating students and academia into this. That's building the 'seed coin' for the future generation that's going to take my place."
Keith's note: The comments section on this is rather interesting.
"The SLS vehicle procurements will be structured to meet the Agency's requirement for an affordable and evolvable vehicle within a schedule that supports various mission requirements. Procurements will include utilization of existing assets to expedite development, as well as further development of technologies and future competitions for advanced systems and key technology areas specific to SLS evolved vehicle needs. Detailed synopses will be issued in the near future for the individual procurements as required by regulation."
NASA Posts Space Launch System Acquisition Overview
"NASA has released the acquisition overview for the Space Launch System (SLS). SLS is an entirely new advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle that will take the agency's astronauts farther into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space exploration efforts."
"Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison said in a press conference a few hours earlier that the exisiting Constellation and shuttle contracts will be changed within a week or so. When asked about this Gerstenmaier said that will not happen that fast. He said that NASA's intent is to have an Industry day for the private sector around 29 September. A formal synopisis will be issued at the end of this week announcing that event."
Keith's note: Its is Monday and despite Gerstenmaier's statement, nothing about an industry day or any procurement changes for SLS has been posted on NASA's procurement site or in the Federal Register.
"With NASA's announcement of the new Deep Space Exploration System, attendance at this event will afford industry an opportunity to learn more about the new Heavy Lift Rocket that will one day take humans far beyond Earth. This will be America's most powerful rocket to be developed since the Satern V rockets that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon."
Keith's 20 Sep update: Where is the rest of the stuff (the procurement/contract changes) that NASA said it was going to release? Sen. Hutchison said this would only take a week. Also, why isn't NASA webcasting this event? Also note that the MSFC folks have forgotten how to spell the name of the Moon rocket they developed back in the day - i.e. "Satern V". Also what is the "Deep Space Exploration System"? Is this a new program? NASA folks often capitalize words they want to emphasize - even though this comes across as a formal name.
Keith's 22 Sep update: See NASA Releases SLS Acquisition Materials
Keith's note: Contrary to what some websites are reporting (including this one) NASA PAO says that the white/black coloration of the SLS stages that evokes memories of the Saturn V is there for the same reason: to aid in tracking during ascent. There will be no spray-on foam on the first (or second stage ) as was the case with the Space Shuttle and Ares V - hence no orange on the SLS.
Keith's update: Well despite the official PAO response, I am now told by several people at NASA with the utmost reliability and knowledge on this issue that the depiction of the SLS in Saturn V-esque paint scheme was done at the discretion of the graphic artist to evoke memories of the Saturn V. My understanding is that they will paint it - but what it will look like no one really knows.
I guess the only way to get a straight answer on this is for someone to ask Bill Gerstenmeier - on the record.
"Late last night and early this morning NASA, Congress, the White House - and the media - were all a buzz with the sudden announcement - that there would be an "announcement". After months of subpoenas, contentious hearings, foot dragging, posturing, leaks, and press conferences, NASA, White House, and Congress had finally come to an agreement as to what the congressionally-mandated Space Launch System would look like and how much it would cost. ... Of course, what is still lacking in this whole story is exactly what NASA will do with this big rocket. Missions to asteroids, Mars etc. are often tossed out by NASA representatives - but no timeline whatosever has yet to be presented - not even a "notional" one. Nor has an overall strategy or architecture been issued or any idea what the cost would be for the things that would actually fly on these rockets."
"This new heavy-lift rocket-in combination with a crew capsule already under development, increased support for the commercialization of astronaut travel to low Earth orbit, an extension of activities on the International Space Station until at least 2020, and a fresh focus on new technologies-is key to implementing the plan laid out by President Obama and Congress in the bipartisan 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which the president signed last year. The booster will be America's most powerful since the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon and will launch humans to places no one has gone before."
"Today is a big day at NASA. The next chapter of America's space exploration story is being written, right here, right now. We've selected the design for a new space exploration system that will take humans far beyond Earth. This important decision will create high-quality jobs here at home and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space exploration efforts."
This document covers four budgetary and Congressional scenarios whereby NASA would build the Space Launch System (SLS).
NASA Sees Testing SLS In 2017 for $18B, Aviation Week
"Early cost estimates for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress has ordered NASA to build indicate the agency believes it can test an unmanned version of the "core" vehicle selected by Administrator Charles Bolden for about $18 billion by the end of 2017."
"Construction on the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Module has begunwith the first weld at the Michoud Assembly Facility on Sept. 9. 2011. This capsule will be used during Orion's first test flight in space."
"Rather than announce these results and move forward with development, the administration's budget office has kept the independent cost report under wraps. Instead, a wildly inflated set of NASA cost numbers was invented, based on an imaginary "acceleration" of SLS development. Under these contrived numbers, which were leaked in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, development costs were forecast to increase to $57 billion - nearly double the amount that NASA and Booz Allen Hamilton agreed would be needed in the independent cost assessment."
Reader note: "the "inflated" numbers these Senators are now complaining about in their release are THEIR numbers from the NASA Authorization Act - if you extended it through 2017 with inflation. It seems these Senators don't even recognize their own numbers."
"Republican Sen. Richard Shelby has been one of Barack Obama's most persistent critics, accusing the president of putting the country on a road to financial ruin with deficits as far as the eye can see. But his demands to slash government programs tend to stop at the Alabama state line. Here in his home state, Shelby has been pressuring the Obama administration to spend billions to build what could become the world's biggest rocket at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville -- a government project that would affect thousands of jobs, benefit a network of powerful industry interests and fill a major void at the agency after the collapse of the Bush-era Constellation initiative and the end of the space shuttle program in July."
"An Aug. 19 budget analysis prepared by NASA managers, a copy of which was obtained by The Wall Street Journal, illustrates the sticker shock associated with NASA's drive to push U.S. manned flights beyond the orbiting international space station. ... Based on priorities already adopted by Congress--then adjusting for projected inflation and accelerated development efforts--the document indicates it could cost as much as $57 billion to deploy and use the proposed systems through 2025. Upgrading launch facilities and building additional spacecraft to allow astronauts to land on the moon or an asteroid, the document indicates, could boost the total to $62.5 billion None of the scenarios envision manned flight on the new rocket before the end of 2017."
Keith's Note: Numbers like this are not supposed to get out - so the White House, NASA, and everyone else in that closed loop can't be happy about this. Now that Congress has to confront the public reality of what NASA says their SLS-based architecture will cost, food fights are certain to follow.
This is just Constellation on Steroids - without all that back to the Moon stuff. I wonder what the new (higher) number would be if the costs of actually developing payloads and then supporting them across a serious, multi-year program of exploration were included? I would imagine that the end costs would not be much different than Constellation (except higher, of course) - and that the money to support such a program would be as equally an unrealistic fantasy as were the promised funds for Constellation.
I wonder what it would cost if NASA just posted an exploration plan and had the private sector bid on implementing it? Do we really need to build a new mega-rocket when existing or evolvable commercial rockets could launch smaller chunks in cheaper launch vehicles?
Keith's additional Note: WSJ has an odd for-pay firewall. In order to read this article, go to Google and paste "White House Experiences Sticker Shock Over NASA's Plans" into the search window. You can read the article but the link that is generated won't work for anyone else.
"Florida's senators share the frustration. So do Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and more than a few House representatives. They've all pressed NASA and the White House this year to get started on SLS. But the Shelby/Sessions letter went further and accused NASA of wrongly shifting some $341 million to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for improvements that they say should go to SLS. Those improvements at Kennedy are only "tangentially" related to the heavy-lift rocket project, according to the Alabama senators. Florida's senators sent their own letter to the White House 11 days later on Aug. 26 saying "there appears to be a misunderstanding." Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio say they wrote to "clarify the intent of the law." Spending for improvements at Kennedy was always part of SLS, the Florida senators said."
Let the Games Begin, opinion, Mike Griffin, SpaceNews
"The administration's actions go beyond simple mismanagement of the program. They amount to a smear campaign, with convenient leaking of derogatory and misleading information to the press, to undermine public support for the program. On Aug. 5, the Orlando Sentinel cited internal NASA documents detailing a $38 billion estimate for a "new NASA moon rocket." This estimate is entirely out of line with previous projections and good management practice. Even if correct, such documents would normally be extremely sensitive and available only to NASA leadership. Their release offers yet another example of the tiresome Washington game of leaking a highly biased story in order to set the terms for an upcoming debate. Fortunately, Congress understands this, and has submitted a formal subpoena for the factual data."
Keith's note: (Gasp) Mike, I'm absolutely shocked that anyone at NASA would ever "leak" anything to the media!! I suppose your staff never leaked anything - ever. You expresss outrage that this has happened - yet a few sentences later you use data from the very same leaked documents with which to make a point. The bias of the selective history you heave forth in your editorial is eclipsed only by your hypocrisy and inconsistency.
Oh yes, word has it that Mike Griffin will be testifying before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in September - along with Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. Griffin helped ghost write Armstrong and Cernan's double header congressional appearances last year ...
NASA's smaller programs could be at risk, Orlando Sentinel
"The trend has alarmed astronomers and others, who are concerned that less-visible projects -- such as robotic Mars missions and various space probes -- will be sacrificed. "So, we have one giant money sponge (JWST) already sucking up dollars with yet another money sponge (SLS) on the drawing board. Since the money simply is not there to do either project to begin with, trying to do both of them together will devour funds from smaller NASA programs," wrote Keith Cowing in a recent post on his influential blog NASA Watch."
JWST and SLS: Dueling Giant Money Sponges, earlier post
NASA needs the go-ahead for a clearly defined mission (editorial), Huntsville Times
"SLS is not a paper rocket," Steve Cook, director of space technology at Dynetics, said Friday at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Cook guided the audience through a power point presentation showing work that has already been done over the last six years under different program names. Cook presented slides of boosters, engines, test firings, and core components like batteries and computers for a heavy lift rocket that have been achieved at Marshall Space Flight Center and other NASA centers like Stennis in Mississippi and Michoud in Louisiana. "The physics doesn't change. A lot of work has already been done," he said."
"Recently, you received a letter from several senators urging the Administration to move forward with the Space Launch System (SLS) and approve the program. We agree that it is time for the Administration to commit to the plan for the new heavy lift rocket. Further delays will only incur additional costs and the continued loss of critical skills that cannot be replaced. The letter also, however, called into question funds being spent for facility upgrades and support capabilities at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and there appears to be a misunderstanding regarding allocation of funds dedicated to development of the SLS as authorized by P.L. 111- 267. In as much as concerns about this issue may have been brought to your attention, we are writing to clarify the intent of the law."
"Panelists were less positive on when NASA will get the green light to build the rocket. Views ranged from "we're getting closer" to "it's a brutal time for budgets and it's not going to get any easier" to a flat prediction that it won't come until the Obama administration goes. That assessment came from former NASA administrator Mike Griffin, a steady critic of the White House that replaced him as NASA chief and killed the rocket program Griffin was leading. Called Constellation, that program included two bigger rockets, one after the other, ending with a heavy-lift rocket like Congress still wants."
Senators Disagree On SLS Approach, Aviation Week
"On June 14, Administrator Charles Bolden selected and sent to the White House for confirmation his final choice for the SLS reference design. He essentially kept the January plan, but with a new wrinkle--a competition for a liquid-fueled strap-on that would make the SLS "evolvable" to meet the congressional requirement of an at least 130-metric-ton (286,600-lb.) lifting capability. One likely competitor for the five-segment solid would be a booster powered by a kerosene-fueled engine to be developed by Aerojet in Sacramento, Calif., and manufactured by Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, Ala. Plans already call for SLS development to be managed at Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, which has experienced deep contractor layoffs with the end of the shuttle and follow-on Constellation programs. Aerojet and Teledyne Brown said in announcing their new kerosene-engine joint venture on June 3 that it could create as many as 1,400 new jobs in Alabama and California."
Keith's note: The House wants to cancel James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) outright. We haven't heard anything specific from the Senate - yet. Every time NASA mentions a cost for JWST it is higher than the previous cost. Now NASA wants to take human spaceflight funds to help pay for JWST which means less money available to build the Space Launch System (SLS). NASA's internal SLS report casts significant doubt on NASA's internal budget numbers and cost projections - which almost always means that NASA will need more money than it thinks it will need in order to build the SLS.
But NASA does not really want to build the SLS (nor does the White House) since it is simply a re-imagined variant of Ares V - a rocket that NASA already halted. The Senate is forcing the SLS down NASA's throat. Yet Congress has given no indication what level of funding it will guarantee for NASA so as to build and fly the SLS and has given no hint whatsoever of funding for the payloads that such a hugh rocket will be designed to carry. And, oh yes, OMB is telling agencies to come up with budgets for FY 2013 that include cuts of up to 10%.
So, we have one giant money sponge (JWST) already sucking up dollars with yet another money sponge (SLS) on the drawing board. Since the money simply is not there to do either project to begin with, trying to do both of them together will devour funds from smaller NASA programs. It will also pit these money sponges' ever-growing chronic need for dollars against the other's similar insatiable appetite. And all of this will happen while the Federal budget is almost certainly going to be constrained - regardless of who wins the 2012 election.
So, will someone explain to me how NASA is going to build and launch both JWST and SLS and have money left over to do all of the other things that it is both chartered to do - and directed to do - by Congress?
Is the answer to heavy-lift rocket cost issue bringing back Ares I?, Huntsville Times
"As NASA's new heavy-lift rocket struggles to get off the drawing board, a national space analyst says the answer to moving into deep space may be bringing back Ares I, the rocket NASA just canceled. Dr. Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, raised the Ares option last week as one way out of political and financial thicket that has enmeshed the Space Launch System (SLS), which is the formal name for the heavy-lift rocket project."
"Today NASA is scheduled to formally receive the independent cost assessment for the Space Launch System (SLS) that was requested by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months - that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately. "I remain very concerned about continuing delays. The 2010 NASA Authorization Act required NASA to bring forward a plan by January 10, 2011. The political leadership at NASA and at OMB has dragged their feet on implementation. After many requests for NASA to comply with the law, the Commerce Committee finally initiated a formal investigation earlier this summer. While that investigation is ongoing, I reiterate my call to NASA and the Administration to proceed with its SLS development program immediately, in compliance with the law.st Assessment to NASA which confirms that NASA can move forward with implementation of SLS."
Keith's note: My question for Sen. Hutchison (and Nelson, Rockefeller etc.): regardless of what this NASA/OMB cost analysis for the SLS says, will you guarantee that the funding will be there to make it happen - all the way to launch? And what about the money to pay for the payloads that will be launched on these giant rockets - will you make a public pledge - now - to support full funding for them too? Of course you won't. None of you will.
Senators urge White House again to start work on heavy-lift rocket, Huntsville Times
"The senators believe money is being diverted from heavy-lift to other NASA spending priorities and that the White House "has no intention" of following the law on spending. OMB spokeswoman Meg Reilly issued the following statement today: "Space exploration remains a commitment of this Administration, but as we take a critical eye to every aspect of the Federal budget, we must ensure that every dollar spent in this area is used effectively and efficiently. We are working with NASA now to better understand the costs of this approach to ensure that a final plan is practicable and sustainable over the long term. At a time when we're working to find savings across the Federal government, it would be reckless to make a final determination before the results of NASA's independent cost assessment are in. This is the best approach for American taxpayers and the future of America's space exploration."
"NASA/LaRC is hereby soliciting information about potential sources for a 1500 lbf liquid propellant rocket engine, herein referred to as a thruster. It must be able to operate from sea level to vacuum conditions without nozzle flow separation and is quick acting as well as fast pulsing. The Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) project is considering incorporating a conventional technology liquid attitude control subsystem (ACS) for coast flight stabilization and reorientation on Flight Test Vehicle (FTV) #2."
Keith's note: Why is NASA continuing to develop an alternate launch escape system for Orion - one that it decided not to implement quite some time ago?
A Closer Look at the Max Launch Abort System, earier post
New NASA moon rocket could cost $38 billion, Orlando Sentinel
"The rocket and capsule that NASA is proposing to return astronauts to the moon would fly just twice in the next 10 years and cost as much as $38 billion, according to internal NASA documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. The money would pay for a new heavy-lift rocket and Apollo-like crew capsule that eventually could take astronauts to the moon and beyond. But it would not be enough to pay for a lunar landing -- or for more than one manned test flight, in 2021. That timeline and price tag could pose serious problems for supporters of the new spacecraft, which is being built from recycled parts of the shuttle and the now-defunct Constellation moon program. It effectively means that it will take the U.S. manned-space program more than 50 years -- if ever -- to duplicate its 1969 landing on the moon. That is certain to infuriate NASA supporters in Congress, who last year ordered NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket by December 2016 -- a deadline the agency says it can't meet."
"As you know, the final design of the SLS is long overdue. This is perplexing since the parameters for the final design are clearly articulated in the Authorization and Appropriations Acts. The Authorization Act clearly states the SLS "shall be designed from inception as a fully integrated vehicle capable of carrying a total payload of 130 tons or more..." The Appropriations Act reinforced this requirement by stating "the heavy lift launch vehicle system... shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons." Both statutory texts were carefully crafted and agreed upon after consultation with rocket propulsion experts who unanimously concluded these design specifications were required to ensure a meaningful spaceflight program. These same experts also determined these legal requirements could only be realistically met through the use of solid rocket motors."
Keith's note: this letter is being circulated around Capitol Hill in search of additional signatures. Senate sources link this directly back to the Utah congressional delegation.
Reader note: The following from transcript of video of Senate press gallery statement by Sen. Orrin Hatch after the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was reported out of committee: "...the Commerce Committee's bill has established certain requirements which the [Space Launch] System must meet. After speaking with experts in Utah, it is their conclusion that these requirements can only be realistically accomplished by using solid rocket motors." video - press release
Former NASA chief Griffin now wants to save the shuttle, Houston Chronicle
"In his e-mail, Griffin writes:
"At this point I'm in agreement with Dr. Kraft ... In a world of limited budgets, I was willing to retire the shuttle as the price of getting a follow-on system that could allow us to establish a manned lunar base. Not that my opinion matters, but I see no sense in retiring the shuttle in favor of nothing. That is beyond foolish."
It's a pretty stunning reversal from the man who, just a few years ago, couldn't get rid of the shuttle soon enough."
Keith's note: Mike Griffin and his self-described "band of brothers" often referred to the Space Shuttle as an "albatross" and was indeed in a big hurry for it to go away. He seemed to have little worry that the "gap" that he so despised grew rather healthily under his tenure. Now that his self-described "Apollo on Steroids" architecture collapsed under its own flawed engineering and program execution, he's suddenly a space shuttle advocate.
That's the problem with steroids, Mike: they affect both your memory and your judgement.
"In my opinion, NASA's SLS program is stalled because the White House doesn't really want to do it," former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said Friday. Griffin, who led NASA during the previous rocket program that Obama killed, has been a persistent critic of NASA's current direction. Griffin is now an eminent scholar at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. "You will recall that SLS is derogatorily referenced by some as the 'Senate Launch System,'" Griffin said in an email response to questions. "That is because the Congress forced it upon the executive branch. The fact that it is the right thing for NASA to do is irrelevant; the White House doesn't want to do it, and they will do everything possible to prevent it from occurring."
"No one questions the need to ensure the best understanding of program costs. We do that every year on an ongoing basis with every major NASA program, as we set spending levels in our annual budget. There is simply no need to defer announcing the vehicle design decision while awaiting yet another cost review. "To do so only increases the real human cost that NASA employees and contractors are experiencing in the face of continued uncertainty about the future. Without a decision we will continue to lose skilled workers that we need to build the shuttle replacements. Besides the toll this will take on workers and their families, who have contributed so much to science, our national security, and the economy, it will be difficult and more costly to replace this invaluable human capital. "We have the information to make a decision now, and I call on the Administration and OMB to immediately make public and approve NASA's technical design decision on the heavy lift vehicle."
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing: A Review of NASA's Space Launch SystemHearing Charter
"The original intent of the hearing was to examine NASA's selection of a heavy-lift launch system ("Space Launch System") that will be used to launch future crew and cargo flights beyond low Earth orbit. Members would have had an opportunity to ask questions regarding cost, schedule, capabilities, and justification for the selected design. However, on July 7, a senior NASA official publicly stated that a final decision on SLS won't be announced until "late this summer." In light of NASA's continuing delays (the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 required a decision and report by mid-January 2011), the hearing will instead provide an opportunity for NASA to explain why it has failed to reach a decision, what analyses still need to be completed, and when the Space Launch System decisions will be forthcoming."
Keith's note: Rep. Hall opended the hearing by telling Bolden that not getting SLS documentation the committee had requested from NASA "is almost an insult to this committee and to Congress". Rep. Johnson said that Bolden can "expect to be on the receiving end of some frustration from members - including me."
"As a preface to the formal portion of my statement, I want to first congratulate all the men and women at NASA and its contractors for the successful launch of STS-135. The Shuttle launch was viewed by tens of thousands on hand in Florida and millions more around the world, including a packed crowd in this hearing room, and it was a bittersweet moment to watch the last flight of the Shuttle Atlantis lift off from Kennedy Space Center."
"Administrator Bolden, as you know, you have been called to testify on NASA's plans to develop the vehicles that will enable future human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit--vehicles that have been authorized and funded by Congress. However, as you also know--and will testify today--you still don't have an approved plan to share with us. As a result, I expect that you will be on the receiving end of a lot of unhappiness and irritation expressed by many Members here today. That's unfortunate, because the fault doesn't lie with you. It's my understanding that you have had a plan ready to announce for some time, but you haven't been able to get the final okay to make it public."
"Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing entitled, "A Review of NASA's Space Launch System." The purpose of the hearing was for the NASA Administrator to explain why the agency has failed to reach a decision on the architecture for the Space Launch System, what analyses still need to be completed, and when final acquisition decisions will be made."
Rocket decision still weeks away, NASA chief says, Orlando Sentinel
"NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told Congress on Tuesday that it could be weeks -- or longer -- before the agency unveils the design for its next big rocket, a timeline that prompted lawmakers to threaten an investigation into the delay. "We have waited for answers that have not come. We have pleaded for answers that have not come," said U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, the Texas Republican who chairs the House science committee. "We have run out of patience."
"NASA maintained at various times that a decision was coming in the spring, then in June, then in early July. NASA associate administrator Lori Garver said last week the agency hopes to make an announcement by late summer."
On NASA and Houston: Sheila Jackson Lee succeeds where I have failed, Houston Chronicle
"I have requested an interview with Charlie Bolden, NASA's administrator, at least half a dozen times since Feb. 2010, the last time I had the opportunity to speak with him. Fact is, Bolden is been all but inaccessible to the media since an initial around of interviews after President Obama released his plan for human spaceflight in early 2010. His predecessors frequently attended pre- and post-launch shuttle news conferences. Bolden rarely if ever does. It's weird. It's not like he's not in Florida for the launches. He is. Anyway, to her credit, Sheila Jackson Lee got a few Houston-related questions in during a House science committee hearing on NASA's Space Launch System. She takes a lot of grief for being too interested in getting in front of cameras, but in this case I'm glad she did."
"I am writing to encourage NASA to initiate a competitive bidding process for the propulsion component of the new Space Launch System (SLS). I believe the greatest challenge we face as a nation is the need to balance our spending priorities with principles of fiscal discipline. Rather than consider a non-competitive sole-source contract, NASA should undertake a competitive bidding process to ensure billions of taxpayer dollars are spent in the most cost-effective and responsible manner possible. Furthermore, increased competition will encourage new, innovative technologies that can lead to lower costs and higher value for Americans in the long run."
Keith's note: Some staffer needs to get the name of the agency, address, etc. correct next time. These letters are all the same and are addressed to "National Aeronautics and Space Agency" at "200 E Street, SW, Room 9F44".
NASA Will Compete Space Launch System Boosters, Aviation Week
"NASA has selected a shuttle-derived vehicle with two existing liquid-oxygen/liquid-hydrogen stages as its reference design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System that Congress has ordered it to build for exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit, but it will hold a competition between liquid- and solid-fuel boosters to get it off the pad. Administrator Charles Bolden on Wednesday endorsed the basic concept developed by launch vehicle experts at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and sent it on to the White House Office of Management and Budget for confirmation."
NASA selects new heavy-lift rocket, say sources, Space News via MSNBC
"Since the law's enactment, NASA has provided Congress with SLS reference designs that also closely resemble the Ares 5, but at the same time warned that the vehicle could not be fielded on the designated schedule under current budget scenarios. Industry sources privately questioned the affordability of NASA's latest strategy, given that it adds a brand new engine development program to the mix. Some also have suggested that competition will slow the SLS development effort. Shelby disagrees. He wrote that he has "seen no evidence that foregoing competition for the booster system will speed development of SLS or, conversely, that introducing competition will slow the program down." Shelby also said the SLS language in the authorization act gives NASA sufficient leeway to hold a competition."
Servicing Study, GSFC
"From March 24-26, 2010, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) hosted an open international workshop to bring potential users and providers of on-orbit servicing capabilities together with the NASA GSFC Satellite Servicing Study Team. The event workshop drew together 57 individual speakers and over 250 participants from industry, academia, NASA, other agencies, and international organizations. ... The servicing mission study activity will result in a report to NASA, and subsequently to Congress, on the results of this workshop together with the integrated results from the servicing study team. The final report to Congress is currently under NASA review."
"NASA will execute a robust study, led by Goddard Space Flight Center under the direction of the Space Operations Missions Directorate (SOMD). The planning activity began in May 2009 and a final report to Congress is due in September 2010."
Keith's note: It has been more than a year since the meeting. The On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Study Project Report was posted recenty (18 June) here. But NASA GSFC never bothered to tell anyone that it had been posted - nor did they bother to link from the page that announced the study. But according to this page "An internal Project Report captures the work performed under the congressional mandate. SSCO's report to Congress is currently under review." So they have yet to deliver the report to Congress - and the report was due for delivery 10 months ago.
NASA Defends Satellite Refueling Demo, Space News
"NASA officials said that they have no intention of developing a satellite refueling business to compete with private industry. "NASA managers have met with officials from MDA and Intelsat, who understand that NASA plans to take the RRM hardware to the International Space Station to use as a technology test bed," NASA spokesman Michael Curie said in an emailed response to questions. "The results of the RRM tests will be shared with everyone, including them. NASA is not doing this to compete with industry. In fact, by conducting these tests on the space station, NASA believes it will help reduce the eventual risk and cost to industry."
"I don't think we need it. I don't think we can afford to operate it. I think it will be rarely used and expensive to maintain," said Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator. "The most likely possibility is that it [the rocket] is unfortunately going to collapse under its own weight in a couple years." Already, NASA has told Congress that it can't build the rocket and its companion crew capsule by the 2017 deadline with the money -- at least $14 billion over the next five years -- it has been given. More seriously, NASA hasn't decided where it wants the rocket and capsule to go. Agency officials talk constantly about the ultimate goal -- Mars -- but that trip is likely decades away. Few are talking about what to do in the meantime."
"In this time of constrained budgets, it would be inexcusible to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars into a non-competitive sole-source contract for the new Space Launch System. By allowing a competitive process, NASA could realize hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings, and billions in savings over the life of the program. Furthermore, a competitive process will build capacity and enhance the critical skills and capabilities at a wide range of aesrospace technology companies."
Keith's 3 June update: When I asked ESMD AA Doug Cooke about this issue at a Women in Aerospace conference today he said that NASA "had not excluded" the option of a full and open competition for the SLS. That is not a "yes" - but it is not a "no" either.
Heavy Lift Rocket Standoff on Capitol Hill, earlier post
Keith's note: Have a look at tomorrow's House Science Committee Hearing. Specifically, have a look at the charter for tomorrow's hearing "NASA's Commercial Cargo Providers: Are They Ready to Supply the Space Station in the Post-Shuttle Era?"
Curiously, after watching NASA spend more than $12 billion on Constellation with only the semi-dummy Ares 1-X rocket to show for it in terms of flight hardware, the committee never planned any oversight hearings on the cost overruns and lack of progress. Now NASA changes the name of Constellation's Orion to "MPCV" - but still hasn't a clue what its new (old) mission will now cost. And Congress still doesn't convene a hearing? Instead they go after the private sector which has made far more progress - at far less cost - toward meeting the same capabilities as NASA has been stumbling to do.
Live webcast starting at 10:00 am EDT
"SpaceX and Orbital continue to make progress completing milestones under their COTS agreements with NASA, but both partners are working under aggressive schedules and have experienced delays in completing demonstration missions. SpaceX successfully flew its first demonstration mission in December 2010, but the mission was 18 months late and the company's second and third demonstration missions have been delayed by almost 2 years due to design, development, and production challenges with the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle."