Recently in SLS and Orion Category

Keith's 21 October update: According to sources an internal assessment of SLS software safety activities at QD34 has been conducted at NASA MSFC. The main outcome is an admission that communication between NASA and its safety contractor - and within NASA itself - was not happening. Upper management had no idea what their employees were actually doing - or not doing. In some cases contractor employees were told by NASA not to work on things that they were supposed to be working on. The assessment also found that the use of contractor employees by NASA for what amounts to personal services activities has gotten out of control. As a result of this assessment reassignment of NASA civil servants is being planned. Also, as a direct result of this mess, the current support contractor is likely to be eliminated from future contract consideration.

SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update), earlier post

How I learned to stop worrying and love the big $60B NASA rocket, Ars Technica

"So if NASA makes 20 SLS flights by the end of the 2030s, the rocket will roughly cost the agency a total of $60 billion, or $3 billion per flight. Now imagine NASA issuing a Request for Information for heavy lift in 2011. Say the agency was willing to pay a fixed-price sum of $10 billion to a private company to develop a 100-ton heavy lift launch vehicle and a per flight fee of $500 million. Either SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, or another company (Blue Origin, perhaps) certainly would have been capable of delivering a flight-ready rocket within a decade. After buying 20 launches, NASA would still have $40 billion left to spend on things other than rockets. During this decade, then, the agency could have focused on deep space habitats, landers, in-space propulsion, Mars gravity studies, and more. When the private rocket was ready to go in 2021, NASA would be prepared to fly meaningful missions. This isn't a hypothetical, by the way. Back in the late 2000s, United Launch Alliance outlined a path of upgrades for its Delta IV Heavy rocket that included derivatives (based upon an innovative ACES upper stage and new engines) that could get 90 tons or more to low-Earth orbit. This could be flying today for less than $10 billion. This was common knowledge to NASA and the aerospace community at the time SLS came into existence, but Congress wasn't interested."

Keith's 29 September update: Sources report that a substantial portion of the contractor staff working for the SLS safety contractor at NASA MSFC QD34 want out and are asking for reassignment to other programs. Many are openly looking for new jobs elsewhere. The prime contractor has been told by NASA MSFC management that if anyone leaves SLS safety support without permission or by other than NASA-directed termination that the incumbent contractor risks not receiving consideration during the contract re-competition next year. SLS safety risks under development are being deleted. People are scared to come forward with issues. SLS management was at Michoud and Stennis for an AOA yesterday and today. This was reportedly a topic for discussion.

NASA OIG: NASA's Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program

"Over its life, the Orion Program has experienced funding instability, both in terms of overall budget amounts and the erratic timing of receipt of those funds. In past reports, we noted that the most effective budget profile for large and complex space system development programs like Orion is steady funding in the early stages and increased funding during the middle stages of development. In contrast, the Orion Program's budget profile through at least 2018 was nearly flat and Program officials acknowledged that this funding trajectory increased the risk that costly design changes may be needed in later stages of development when NASA integrates Orion with the SLS and GSDO. In addition, Orion officials noted that the timing of appropriations affected their ability to perform work as planned, with the Program receiving its funding between 4 and 8 months after the start of fiscal years 2012 - 2016. ... Finally, the Program is working toward an internal planned launch date significantly earlier than the Agency's external commitment date or estimates by an independent review board. We are concerned that such an optimistic approach, given the Program's flat budget profile, increases the risk that Orion officials will defer certain tasks, which ultimately could delay the Program's schedule and increase costs."

How much will SLS and Orion cost to fly? Finally some answers, Ars Technica

"My top number for Orion, SLS, and the ground systems that support it is $2 billion or less," [NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development Bill] Hill told Ars. "I mean that's my real ultimate goal. We were running at about three-plus, 3.6 billion [dollars] during the latter days of space shuttle. Of course, there again, we were flying six or seven missions. I think we're actually going to have to get to less than that." Ars has learned that the agency's ultimate goal for annual production and operations costs is about $1.5 billion. ... Production and operations costs - P&O in NASA's acronym laden jargon - of $2 billion or less would leave a significant amount of money within NASA's budget for human missions to the vicinity of the Moon, to its surface, or eventually crewed missions to Mars. In fiscal year 2016, NASA received $3.7 billion for exploration systems development, essentially the SLS, Orion, and ground systems budget. The number is likely to grow to $4 billion before the decade's end. If it could eventually spend half of that on deep space habitats, landers, surface living quarters, and myriad other systems, the agency could have the beginnings of a viable program in deep space."

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Annual Report 2015, earlier post

"In October 2015, NASA published what it called "a detailed outline" of its next steps in getting to the Red Planet. Unfortunately, the level of detail in the report, NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering the Next Steps in Space Exploration, does not really validate whether NASA would be capable of achieving such an ambitious objective in a reasonable time period, with realistically attainable technologies, and with budgetary requirements that are consistent with the current economic environment."

Double GAO Reports: SLS and Orion Cost and Risk Estimates Are Still Unreliable

"... the SLS program has not positioned itself well to provide accurate assessments of core stage progress - including forecasting impending schedule delays, cost overruns, and anticipated costs at completion - because at the time of our review it did not anticipate having the baseline to support full reporting on the core stage contract until summer 2016 - some 4.5 years after NASA awarded the contract."

- GAO Finds NASA SLS Costs Not Credible, earlier post
- NASA Employs Faith-Based Funding Approach For SLS, earlier post
- NASA Has Three Different Launch Dates for Humans on SLS, earlier post
- Earlier SLS/Orion posts

A new, independent review of the Orion spacecraft is pretty damning, Ars Technica

"Despite these concerns, NASA is pressing ahead with an effort to try and accelerate development of Orion to enable an August 2021 launch of Exploration Mission-2. Yet the GAO found this scenario improbable. "To stay on the aggressive internal schedule, the agency is counting on receiving higher appropriated funds than what it plans to request, which may not be realistic in a constrained budget environment," the report states. There is low confidence - 40 percent - in NASA making the 2021 launch date, and the GAO believes this may not be a "beneficial strategy" for Orion in the long term."

- Double GAO Reports: SLS and Orion Cost and Risk Estimates Are Still Unreliable, earlier post
- Earlier posts on SLS and Orion

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: Action Needed to Improve Visibility into Cost, Schedule, and Capacity to Resolve Technical Challenges, GAO

"GAO found that the Orion program's cost and schedule estimates are not reliable based on best practices for producing high-quality estimates. Cost and schedule estimates play an important role in addressing technical risks. ... For example, the cost estimate lacked necessary support and the schedule estimate did not include the level of detail required for high-quality estimates. Without sound cost and schedule estimates, decision makers do not have a clear understanding of the cost and schedule risk inherent in the program or important information needed to make programmatic decisions. ... NASA and the Orion program have made some programmatic decisions that could further exacerbate cost and schedule risks. The Orion program is executing to an internal schedule with a launch readiness date of August 2021, which has a lower confidence level than its commitment baseline. This means that NASA is accepting higher cost and schedule risk associated with executing this schedule .... The lack of cost reserves has caused the program to defer work to address technical issues and stay within budget. As a result, the Orion program's reserves in future years could be overwhelmed by work being deferred. Program officials told GAO that they have not performed a formal analysis to understand the impact that delaying work might have on the available reserves since the program was confirmed. Without this type of analysis, program management may not have a complete understanding of how decisions made now will affect the longer-term execution of the program."

NASA Human Space Exploration: Opportunity Nears to Reassess Launch Vehicle and Ground Systems Cost and Schedule, GAO

"... the SLS program has not positioned itself well to provide accurate assessments of core stage progress - including forecasting impending schedule delays, cost overruns, and anticipated costs at completion - because at the time of our review it did not anticipate having the baseline to support full reporting on the core stage contract until summer 2016 - some 4.5 years after NASA awarded the contract. Further, unforeseen technical challenges are likely to arise once the program reaches its next phase, final integration for SLS and integration of SLS with its related Orion and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) human spaceflight programs. Any such unexpected challenges are likely to place further pressure on SLS cost and schedule reserves. ... NASA officials stated that this review will have limited discussion of cost and schedule. Proceeding ahead without reassessing resources, however, could result in the EGS or SLS program exhausting limited resources to maintain pace toward an optimistic November 2018 launch readiness date. ... In July 2015, GAO found that SLS's limited cost and schedule reserves were placing the program at increased risk of being unable to deliver the launch vehicle on time and within budget."

Earlier posts on SLS and Orion

Market doesn't justify reusable launchers, expendable rocket makers argue, Ars Technica

"Monday evening in Salt Lake City, some aerospace industry officials sat down to discuss this new development. The panel at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics forum on propulsion had a provocative title, "Launch Vehicle Reusability: Holy Grail, Chasing Our Tail, or Somewhere in Between?" Moderator Dan Dumbacher said of the panel, "We purposefully tried to get a good cross-section of those who have been working on it." However, the panel included no one actually building reusable rockets and relied heavily on the old-guard perspective. Dumbacher himself, now a professor at Purdue University, previously managed development of the Space Launch System rocket for NASA, and he expressed doubt about the viability of reusable launch vehicles in 2014 by essentially saying that because NASA couldn't do it, it was difficult to see how others could."

Keith's note: Well of course SLS-hugger and former NASA SLS manager Dan Dumbacher can't see a world where the launch market is diverse in terms of customers, payloads, launch vehicles, and financing. He only has wetware that lets him see giant government-built rockets - so that is all that he can see.

Buzz Aldrin says NASA is going about Mars exploration the wrong way, Ars Technica

"In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA should change the approach it has had in place since the 1960s, that of designing and managing development of its own rockets. He took direct aim at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. "It competes with the private sector," Aldrin said. "I thought most of us were in the process of learning that the government shouldn't do that."

NASA working towards September 2018 SLS/Orion launch, Space News

"Honeycutt said the SLS program is making progress on the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a more powerful upper stage planned for future SLS missions after EM-1. The EUS has also become a political issue, as Congress provided additional funding and direction for EUS work not requested by the agency in its recent budget requests. Congress directed NASA to spend at least $85 million on EUS in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill, and have it ready in time for the second SLS mission, EM-2. NASA, however, did not request enough funding in its fiscal year 2017 budget request to support development of the EUS in time for EM-2, even as it directed agency engineers to stop work on human rating the interim upper stage that will be flown on EM-1."

Keith's note: NASA did not ask for the money to build EUS and they have stopped working on ICPS. Right now SLS has no upper stage. And yet they claim that they are going to meet their launch dates. Yea, this sort of stuff really happens in Washington.

Keith's note: I sent the following email request to Glenn Delgado, AA for NASA's Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP): "I found this tweet to be very interesting. Can you provide me with a list of the specific 800+ small business companies that are contributing to SLS, where they are located, and what their products/services are in relation to SLS? People often do not appreciate just how pervasive NASA programs are in terms of procurement. Moreover it is often not appreciated how deeply these programs can reach into small communities a great distance from the cities/states where space activities are usually associated."

Keith's update: No response from Glenn Delgado or NASA PAO but this tweet from @NASA_OSBP just appeared. Impressive report (download). Too bad NASA PAO hasn't issued a press release about it. Oddly the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a pro-SLS/Orion lobbying group, has made no mention at all about it.

NASA OIG: Audit of NASA's Engineering Services Contract at Kennedy Space Center

"The size and scope of Kennedy's Engineering Contract has made managing the Contract particularly challenging. The cost and tasks included in the baseline and task order components of the Contract are not clearly defined, managers overseeing the Contract may lack appropriate expertise, and cost allocations are not clear. In addition, several tasks Vencore is performing on a cost-reimbursable basis appear more suitable for a fixed-price arrangement. Moreover, NASA has limited its ability to evaluate Vencore's performance by including generic milestones and deliverables in some task orders, as well as employing evaluation standards that do not align with the Federal Acquisition Regulation or the Contract's award-fee plan. As a result, NASA's evaluations of Vencore's performance do not consistently support the award-fee scores assigned or the resulting payments, and we question more than $450,000 in award-fee payments NASA made to Vencore between fiscal years 2011 and 2014."

NASA OIG Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System for SLS and Orion, earlier post

"The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system."

The Space Launch System "Jobs Program", Paul Spudis

Spudis: "In contrast to some misleading promotional slight of hand, the SLS will not "take astronauts to Mars" but it could launch ready-to-assemble pieces for a human Mars mission into space (it would take between 8 and 12 launches of an augmented SLS to get a fully fueled manned Mars vehicle into space and prepared for departure to Mars)."

Commenter: "... I'm sort of surprised to see you acting as though launching most of our propellant for a Mars mission from Earth is a good idea."

Spudis: "Where in this post have I advocated that?"

Keith's 2 May note: Let's see: Spudis writes "it would take between 8 and 12 launches of an augmented SLS to get a fully fueled manned Mars vehicle into space and prepared for departure to Mars." If it is "fully fueled" and one presumes launched from Earth on SLS rockets, then he just said that the propellant for the mission to Mars comes from Earth, right? FWIW I attempted to post this comment but Dr. Spudis declined to allow it to be posted. This is sort of silly given that the first paragraph of Spudis' article centers around a linked posting on NASA Watch and an article on Buzzfeed that quotes me. C'mon Paul.

Keith's 3 May update: well now my comment has been un-deleted and approved (Spudis says they were never deleted so I will defer to his explanation). Spudis tersely points to another response where he says that he really meant refueling from lunar ice. Not a bad idea - but that is not what he originally said - or even implied.

This article has lots of classic SLS defenses and attacks. Spudis derides Falcon Heavy saying that he's never seen a Falcon Heavy and "but as no Falcon Heavy has yet to fly, we have no idea of what its cost would be." Well, SpaceX has been posting prices for Falcon Heavy for some time. They revised their prices just the other day. As for having never flown - correct but wait: the Falcon 9, three of which will comprise a Falcon Heavy, have flown multiple times. Yet Paul hugs his SLS even more tightly even though there is no SLS vehicle lying around - anywhere in a hangar.

Moreover, unlike the Falcon Heavy (which uses identical Falcon 9s) SLS has never flown as "SLS". Right now the SLS is a bunch of parts that have never been assembled as a single vehicle. The SRBs to be used by SLS are designed Shuttle design but have never flown. SLS uses old Shuttle engines that have never been flown in a SLS configuration. And the SSMEs and SRBs are attached to a new core structure that has never flown.

Falcon 9 has been flying for years. SLS will not fly for another 2-3 years and then will have another 3-4 year gap before it flies again. Yet Spudis et al think that SLS, which will fly twice in the next 6-8 years, will somehow be less risky to use than the Falcon 9/Heavy which will have had dozens and dozens of flights in the same period of time at a collective cost that will still be dwarfed by what SLS costs to build and operate - for 2 flights.

Like I said, SLS supporters are somewhat confused.

Why NASA Is Building An $18 Billion Rocket To Nowhere, Buzzfeed

"It is more the politics of pork than the politics of progress," former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver told BuzzFeed News. "There's a long-time pattern at NASA where money aimed at science and research ends up with builders and contractors instead." ... "The point is to spend money and create jobs the way the Soviet Union did on its rocket design bureaus," Keith Cowing of NASA Watch told BuzzFeed News. The SLS "a rocket to nowhere," as Cowing put it fits this pattern neatly because it provides thousands of jobs in space states. No one knows where it will go. Maybe to an asteroid (the Obama administration's unloved notion), or to circle the moon, or boost astronauts on their way to Mars."

NASA, We Have A (Funding) Problem, op ed, Mary Davis (staffer in Rep. Babib's Office), Houston Chronicle

"The SLS and Orion are strategic national assets and have to be sufficiently funded to lead the race back to the Moon and to Mars. As Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, Congressman Babin is leading this fight for adequate funding of these programs. This will have a direct effect on his district in terms of lowering unemployment rates, inspiring young children, and increases economic competitiveness. It would also affect the entire nation by expanding international relations and advances national security interests."

Public Law 111-267 - NASA Authorization Act of 2010

"SEC. 304. UTILIZATION OF EXISTING WORKFORCE AND ASSETS IN DEVELOPMENT OF SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM AND MULTI- PURPOSE CREW VEHICLE. (a) IN GENERAL.In developing the Space Launch System pursuant to section 302 and the multi-purpose crew vehicle pursu- ant to section 303, the Administrator shall, to the extent practicable utilize (1) existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects, including ... (B) Space Shuttle-derived components and Ares 1 components that use existing United States propulsion systems, including liquid fuel engines, external tank or tank-related capability, and solid rocket motor engines; and (2) associated testing facilities, either in being or under construction as of the date of enactment of this Act."

Keith's note: I am not sure what to make of this comment by Charlie Bolden. Either he is very confused or someone is giving him really stupid talking points. Let's see, where do I start: how "old" is SLS technology? The Solid Rocket Boosters SLS uses are stretched and improved versions of the same design that Space Shuttles flew beginning in 1981 - but were designed in the 1970s (source). Oh, and SLS uses re-flown Space Shuttle Main Engines (RS-25) which were also designed in the 1970s (source). And, FWIW Bolden flew these vehicles multiple times in the 80s.

SpaceX vehicles and engines were designed in the 21st century, use advanced manufacturing technology and require an ever-shrinking number of people to launch. Instead of re-using the reusable SSMEs on SLS, NASA will throw them away whereas SpaceX can use their first stages over and over and over again - after they wash the soot off the rocket, that is.

New NASA budget eats the seed corn of its Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"This week, the US Senate's Appropriations subcommittee overseeing spaceflight put forward its blueprint for NASA's FY2017 budget. The top-line number looks promising at $19.306 billion - a $21 million year-over-year increase. Yet the Senate plan exposes two potentially fatal flaws with NASA's Journey to Mars. Namely, the US Congress continues to place funding for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion space capsule before all other elements of NASA's exploration program. And by raiding other areas of NASA's budget, notably Space Technology, it is hamstringing the agency's ability to carry out the journey."

Larger image

- NASA: We're on a #JourneyToMars - But Don't Ask Us How, earlier post
- NAC Doesn't Think NASA Has Tech Or Plans For #JourneyToMars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Previous SLS postings
- Previous Exploration postings

Keith's note: Then there's this classic goofy SLS tweet from January: Useless SLS Trivia From NASA

Without NASA there would be no SpaceX and its brilliant boat landing, Ars Technica

"It's not clear how long this happy relationship between SpaceX and NASA will last. The company may fly its Falcon Heavy rocket late this year or in 2017, and although it doesn't have quite the payload capacity that NASA's under-development Space Launch System does, it will cost far less to fly. The next president, or some in Congress, may begin asking why NASA is spending billions to develop its own heavy-lift rocket when SpaceX already has one. But on Friday night it was all good. Across NASA's field centers, in cubicles, offices, and coffee rooms, the engineers working on various projects were watching. As one young flight controller from Johnson Space Center told me about her experience, "There were about 20 people crowded around my screen, and we were all going nuts." Elon Musk hasn't forgotten NASA, either. The first thing he did during Friday's news conference was to thank the space agency that had made it all possible."

NASA OIG Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System for SLS and Orion

"The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system."

Keith's note: Typical NASA double talk. They design a system to do a bunch of things. They claim that all of the program's requirements are necessary for safety and reliability and worth the large cost. And oh yes, NASA can do it much better in-house rather than use existing commercial solutions since NASA's requirements are one of a kind. Then the costs dramatically increase and implementation delays move to the right. Then the OIG steps in an points out the problems.

Then NASA says 'Oh, [INSERT ANY PROGRAM NAME] will still work without all the stuff we wanted to do. But some things won't work. But it is still safe to use it. But we need more money to fix the things that we don't really need but want to have because maybe it is not totally safe to use it after all - but we'll still use it without those functions because we have no alternative. And oh, by the way: stop bothering us: we know what we are doing.' But wait - there's more: NASA can save its own bacon by slipping SLS/Orion flights further to the right such that the SCCS now has more time to get things right since there's no actual missions for it worry about.

The more things change ...

NASA chief: Apollo engineers who criticize SLS don't grok modern rocketry, Ars Technica

"Although the SLS rocket does indeed use modern manufacturing processes and sophisticated computer simulations, it is in many ways based on technology from the 1970s. For its initial boost, the SLS will use solid-rocket boosters based on those that performed the same function for the shuttle. The rocket will be powered by four space shuttle main engines, which NASA began developing as far back as 1969. Bolden then reiterated that Kraft knew more than him about rockets, but he again qualified this praise: "I have the advantage of a team around me that he didn't have," he said. "You have to remember. Most of us forget. I have a very mature leadership team. When Dr. Kraft was in mission control, and when he led the Johnson Space Center, we went to the Moon. Most of the people were 20 years old. They didn't know anything."

Keith's note: These RS-25 engines will end up on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. They will not go into "deep space" - or anywhere in space. At least Shuttle missions took them for a ride into low Earth orbit. Deep space? No. Deep Atlantic? Yes. More goofy exaggerated NASA hype on the #JourneyToMars

Statement by Sen. Shelby on NASA FY 2017 Budget Request

"Surprisingly, NASA has not proposed a single dollar for the development of an upper stage engine that is absolutely necessary for a crewed mission that is only seven years away."

Keith's note: Of course Shelby forgets that $1.2 billion NASA spent on the J-2X for use on Ares V and SLS upper stages - much of it was spent in Alabama. That engine was subsequently mothballed because NASA had no idea what it was doing. But Shelby paid their bills anyway.

Overview: J-2X Engine, NASA

"J-2X is a highly efficient and versatile advanced rocket engine with the ideal thrust and performance characteristics to power the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System, a new heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, the J-2X builds on heritage designs but relies on nearly a half-century of NASA spaceflight experience and technological and manufacturing advances to deliver up to 294,000 pounds of thrust, powering exploration to new destinations in our solar system."

NASA Has No Clear Use for the J-2X That It Once Needed, earlier post

Keith's note: Last week a group of space-related organizations rented the National Press Club so they could announce a white paper on space policy. Why bother? Space is not going to be an issue in the 2016 campaign.

At the press event Elliot Pulham from The Space Foundation said "We thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns" but moments later he also said "To some extent, the purpose of this is not to have space become a big presidential issue". Pulham added "Let's not undo anything." Sandy Magnus from the AIAA said that this coalition wanted to take the issue of space policy "off the table" but at the same time she said that this group wants to "stress the importance" of space.

Such is the problem with these sort of documents from the space community. On one hand the space groups want to have a say in the political decisions that affect their members (and donors). But on the other hand they'd rather not have the politicians pay too much attention to space such that the current status quo is not upset. In other words "write us the checks but don't rock the boat" - or more bluntly "look but don't touch". This is, at best, naive thinking on the part of the space community.

If you read the white paper it becomes immediately apparent that this coalition wants everything that they are doing to be supported and in some cases, they want even more money. They also want a stable funding environment (makes sense). The two main programs being supported by this coalition are SLS/Orion and Commercial Crew and Cargo with gratuitous mention of other projects that are important to the members of this coalition. Indeed that is all that this white paper is actually about: supporting specific big aerospace contracts. There is no similarly identified support for specific space, planetary, and earth science. Small wonder that the Planetary Society, American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, et al are not among the members of this coalition.

While a lot of prominent names are affixed to this white paper it is clearly being driven by the so-called "four amigos": Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Orbital ATK - the builders of SLS/Orion. Look at the organizations listed and ponder who the prime donors/members are. Its not that hard to fill in the blanks amidst the smoke and mirrors. No surprise folks - this is how these things always work.

Fact Checking SLS Propaganda

Upon Closer Look, NASA's Exploration Systems are Game-Changers, OpEd, Mary Lynne Dittmar, SpaceNews

Dittmar: "The point is that there has never been a launch system like this - one that can deliver NASA human exploration and science missions throughout the solar system."

Keith's note: Nonsense. The Saturn V existed and flew more than 40 years ago. Abundant studies were in place whereby it could have been used to send things all over the solar system. But we threw it away. Saturn V's flew at a pace of 2 times a year. SLS launches, as NASA currently plans them, will be years apart. Your basic Saturn V could put 310,000 lb in to LEO. But the more powerful SLS will put 150,000 to 290,000 lb into LEO.

Dittmar: "For the last several years the President's budget request and congressional appropriations have been out of sync, forcing NASA and its contractors to work at a slower pace under greater budget pressure for the first part of the year until congressional appropriations are set at the necessary levels."

Keith's note: GAO: "In 2014, we found that NASA had not matched cost and schedule resources to requirements for the SLS program and was pursuing an aggressive development schedule. This situation, in turn, was compounded by the agency's reluctance to request funding in line with the program's needs. In addition, we found that the agency's preliminary life-cycle cost estimates for human exploration were incomplete."

Dittmar: "With the funding levels appropriated by Congress in the FY16 omnibus, the systems that will enable this the Space Launch System, or SLS, and the Orion crew vehicle are on track for launch of an uncrewed test mission in 2018, and a crewed mission in 2021."

Keith's note: NASA has been keeping two sets of books - the internal set says that it will launch humans on SLS in 2021 while the public one aims for 2023. Now there's a third set of books is being kept wherein a 2024-2025 launch date is being worked.

Dittmar: "It will carry three times more than the Space Shuttle and, eventually, fly faster than anything human beings have ever hurled toward the heavens."

Keith's note: Faster than the Atlas V that launched New Horizons to Pluto? (It took 9 hours to reach the Moon).

Dittmar: "... the speed of the SLS will cut years off of planetary science missions."

Keith's note: What planetary missions? Not a single planetary mission has been approved for flight on SLS. Congress wants a Europa lander. NASA does not. There is no projected budget, no SLS vehicle has been set aside to launch it. SLS was not developed to launch planetary missions. It was designed to send humans to Mars until NASA was desperate for other ways to sell their expensive, delayed rocket - then suddenly it was designed for planetary missions. And the one mission approved by NASA that would send humans to another body in space, ARM, as been specifically banned by Congress. NASA is building the rocket and is now desperately searching for things to do with it.

Dittmar: "Further, every launch of the SLS can enable multiple missions."

Keith's note: Duh. Launch vehicles have been able to launch multiple payloads and support multiple missions for half a century.

- SLS Upper Stage Woes on The Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- NASA Has Three Different Launch Dates for Humans on SLS, earlier post
- ASAP: NASA Has No Plan or Firm Funding For Its #JourneyToMars , earlier post
- NASA Employs Faith-Based Funding Approach For SLS, earlier post
- SLS/Orion Gets a Lobbying Organization in Washington (Update), earlier post

More SLS postings

SLS upper stage caught in political tug-of-war, SpaceNews

"NASA is stopping work, at the request of Congress, on human-rating the initial upper stage for the Space Launch System, even as the agency argues that its funding projections require it to use that upper stage on crewed missions. At issue is the future use of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), an upper stage derived from the Delta 4's upper stage. The ICPS is intended for use on at least the first SLS launch, which will not carry a crew. NASA confirmed Feb. 18 that it has instructed teams to stop work on efforts to human-rate the ICPS for later, crewed SLS missions, following instructions from Congress in the report accompanying the 2016 omnibus spending bill."

NASA moves to enforce early switch to EUS for SLS,

"The EUS recieved a specific reference from NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski in comments made to the media after the announcement, citing that the reduced funding could impact on implementing the EUS on the second flight of SLS."

Keith's note: On one hand NASA stops work on anything that would involve use of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for a crewed EM-2 mission but on the other hand its FY 2017 budget request is nowhere near enough to develop the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) such that crewed EM-2 can stay on its current schedule. In other words the White House, NASA, and Congress are all but ensuring that the first flight of SLS with humans will most certainly slip - possibly after the second term of the next person to be elected president. NASA started this big Ares-V/SLS effort back in the middle of the Bush presidency. This latest threat to SLS could mean that more than two, double-term presidencies will have passed before NASA can send its new big rocket with anyone on board.

I wonder how many Atlas, Delta, and Falcon rockets you could have bought with the money NASA has spent on Ares-V/SLS? How much sooner could we have begun to build and operate a real cis-lunar infrastructure had we gone with private sector rockets? Yes, it would take more launches, but given the chronic inability for NASA to field its new big rocket, we'd have been further along - for less money - if we'd taken the commercial approaches first envisioned when the Vision for Space Exploration was announced in January 2004. But no, NASA is on a #JourneyToNowhere instead.

- NASA Is Building A Rocket That It Can't Afford To Use, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

NASA's New Budget Would Gut Europa But Otherwise Support Planetary Exploration, Planetary Society

"Europa isn't Mars, and studying and eventually getting humans to Mars is NASA's current overriding goal. Pure politics. Several of the Congressional leaders who are strongly backing the Europa mission and planetary exploration in general are highly conservative politically. While they favor spending more money on planetary missions, they also want to cut funding for missions for NASA to study the Earth, especially climate change. Essentially proposing to push out the launch of a Europa mission to forever may be part of a hardball negotiating tactic to trade more funding for the Europa mission for also fully funding the President's generous proposed budget for Earth science missions."

Keith's note: This is hilarious. The Planetary Society is using the "politics" dog whistle when in fact politics is all that they engage in when they lobby Congress for their referred projects - and against those they do not like. In this case, they are not getting their way, so, of course it is due to that horrible Washington scourge called "politics". What will be fun to watch is when the Planetary Society eventually realizes that the only way that they are going to get their preferred Europa mission ala Rep. Culberson, is to fly it on a SLS. That means that they will have to start lobbying for SLS - and against (or not in support of) Earth science and/or commercial crew (where their extra Europa money will come from). Of course SLS is at the heart of NASA's #JourneyToMars so the Planetary Society will have to start to support that effort (which is also eating Europa funds) and not their Almost-Mission to Mars concept.

NASA Mission: Orion's Next Step, NPR Morning Edition

"The space agency hopes the Orion capsule, which has been transported to the Kennedy Space Center, will one day take astronauts to the moon and Mars. The program, however, faces budget challenges."

Keith's note: My little bit of snark is included toward the end of this story.

Charles D. Walker: Don't relinquish all space exploration to private firms, Charles Walker, Arizona Daily Star

"The idea is attractive, even if commercial plans for a Mars mission are hypothetical at best. But as much as I support the private space industry, experience and common sense tell me that a commercial Mars human landing won't ever get off the ground not unless NASA goes there first. Businesses are slaves to short-term balance sheets, and private space-industry investors and shareholders are notoriously risk-averse. Even wealthy entrepreneurs won't throw their money away. They'll back straightforward missions like delivering cargo to the space station 250 miles above the Earth using mature and well-tested technologies if they can turn a profit within a reasonable time with acceptable risk."

Keith's note: This is the sort of Pro-SLS, only-government-can-explore sort of nonsense that Mary Lynne Dittmar and her Coalition for Deep Space Exploration are pushing. (this op ed is linked to from the Coalition's website). This is how Dittmar retweeted a link to this op ed:

This statement by Dittmar is fundamentally silly given that the "whims of market or investors" are precisely what push the management of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Orbital ATK, ULA, Aerojet, and the rest of the aerospace sector to pursue big government projects such as Orion and SLS. Dittmar can't have it both ways.

Keith's additional note: At the NASA Advisory Council meeting last year, Bill Gerstenmaier made it very clear that NASA needs to have a fully commercialized LEO infrastructure in order to free up NASA resources to focus on SLS/Orion-based exploration of cislunar space - and later, of Mars. When asked what would happen if that LEO commercialization did not happen, Gerstenmaier said that NASA would have to reassess how it would accomplish its exploration goals. Clearly, Mary Lynn Dittmar, NASA's future exploration of space is intimately tied to the success of LEO commercialization - an activity that will be driven by the "whims of market or investors". Besides, everyone knows that NASA's ability to explore is, always has been, and always will be "held hostage to whims of" -- Congress. As such, what is wrong with trying to find an alternate path to enable the exploration and utilization of space?

KSC meeting portrays SLS as scrambling for a manifest plan, NASASpaceFlight

"An "All-Hands" style meeting was held in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Monday, overviewing the spaceport's current and future initiatives.

Payload concerns, high costs, and competition cloud future of NASA rocket, Ars Technica

"During the all-hands meeting, according to the report, Lightfoot told employees the space agency is considering moving humans off of EM-2 and onto EM-3. The reason he cited is NASA's desire to use a more powerful upper stage on EM-2. For the EM-1 first test flight, NASA is using an "interim" upper stage, but, to use the interim stage for a crewed flight, NASA would have to spend $150 million or more to ensure it is reliable enough for humans. Because NASA may not want to fly crew members on the initial flight of its untested upper stage, EM-2 may have to be re-designated as a non-crewed mission as well. During the Florida meeting Lightfoot expressed his preference for launching a Europa spacecraft. This robotic mission has widespread support in Congress, but, as Ars has exclusively reported, it will not be ready to fly until the end of November, 2023, at the earliest. If that is the case, EM-3, the first mission to carry astronauts into space, would not occur until 2024 or 2025, long after initially promised."

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Annual Report 2015, ASAP

"With its external stakeholders, primarily Congress, NASA executive management has committed to a 2023 EM-2 launch with a 70 percent schedule confidence level. However, NASA's internal direction to the programs is to work to a 2021 EM-2 launch date, which has a schedule confidence level close to zero at requested funding levels. ... Externally committing to a 2023 launch for EM-2 while making decisions based on a 2021 launch date is a risky situation, because safety could be unnecessarily compromised unless guiding safety principles are established and maintained."

Keith's note: So ... NASA originally said that it needs SLS for the whole #JourneyToMars thing - just like Ares V. Then reality sets in (as it always does) and NASA's response is to keep two sets of books - the internal set says that it will launch humans on SLS in 2021 while the public one aims for 2023. Now there's a third set of books is being kept wherein a 2024-2025 launch date is being worked. But wait there's more. Because HEOMD can't get its own payloads ready to fly on the rocket that was designed to carry them, there's a desperate rush to find something - anything - to fly on SLS. Right on cue Congress votes to require NASA to fly a Europa lander and to do so on SLS. Again, just like NASA started to do with Ares V when problems arose. Soon enough you'll start to see a stealthy encroachment on SMD's budget to help pay for SLS costs under the whole Europa thing. No doubt Congress will make yet another run at Commercial Crew and Cargo as well to free up some cash for SLS.

- GAO Finds NASA SLS Costs Not Credible, earlier post
- NASA Employs Faith-Based Funding Approach For SLS, earlier post
- NASA Delays First Crewed Orion Flight By Two Years, earlier post
- NASA Can't Decide What SLS Engines It Does/Does Not Need, earlier post

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Annual Report 2015

"In October 2015, NASA published what it called "a detailed outline" of its next steps in getting to the Red Planet. Unfortunately, the level of detail in the report, NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering the Next Steps in Space Exploration, does not really validate whether NASA would be capable of achieving such an ambitious objective in a reasonable time period, with realistically attainable technologies, and with budgetary requirements that are consistent with the current economic environment."

- Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's Strategic Plan Isn't Strategic - or a Plan, earlier post
- Charlie Bolden's Meandering Strategic Plans, earlier post

Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Commends Congress on Commitment to Deep Space Exploration

"These investments represent a strong commitment to America's human, robotic and science exploration programs," said Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director of the Coalition. "The robust funding levels achieved in the omnibus will support the continuing development of America's new space exploration systems - leading to the launch of Exploration Mission-1 in 2018. The Space Launch System and the Orion crew vehicle will take humans deeper into space than ever before."

Smith Condemns Administration's Space Exploration Delays

"NASA announced today that its schedule for the first crewed mission of SLS and Orion will slip to 2023; this represents a two year slip from previous plans for the first mission by 2021."

Keith's note: The SLS/Orion lobbying team is happy. Now if only the four amigos and their NASA managers can stop making negative progress on launch dates. You'll notice that the Coalition omits mention of the 2021 to 2023 launch slip for the first crewed mission in their press release. Why spoil the good news with facts, eh?

- NASA Delays First Crewed Orion Flight By Two Years, earlier post
- The Four Amigos and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post
- NASA Employs Faith-Based Funding Approach For SLS, earlier post
- GAO Finds NASA SLS Costs Not Credible, earlier post
- NASA Can't Decide What SLS Engines It Does/Does Not Need, earlier post
- SLS CDR: Not As Smooth As Advertised, earlier post

More #JourneyToMars Hype

Keith's note: As if Orion with only a service module will be in Mars orbit.

NASA Counting on Budget Increase for SLS and Orion, Space News

"NASA is currently spending money on its key exploration programs at a rate that assumes Congress will approve a budget increase in the next month, a move that could delay some efforts should the additional funds not materialize. Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, told a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council's human exploration and operations committee here Nov. 4 that NASA was funding programs like the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft at a higher rate than specified in the continuing resolution (CR) currently funding the agency. "Today we're running hot. We're running based on what we saw in the draft House and Senate levels," Hill said. "But if we don't ultimately achieve those levels in an appropriations bill, then we'll have to power back and replan."

Keith's note: Of course the flip side of this is the equal expectation within NASA that its commercial crew and/or cargo efforts will be shortchanged in the budget thus delaying progress, reducing capability, and driving up eventual long-term costs. Punting on the CRS-2 decision gives NASA time to do a lot of things - including waiting until they see how much money they have. If the commercial crew budget gets cut too far there will be renewed pressure to downselect to one provider.

- GAO Finds NASA SLS Costs Not Credible, earlier post
- NASA Delays First Crewed Orion Flight By Two Years, earlier post
- SLS/Orion Gets a Lobbying Organization in Washington (Update), earlier post
- NASA Can't Decide What SLS Engines It Does/Does Not Need, earlier post
- SLS CDR: Not As Smooth As Advertised, earlier post

Coalition for Space Exploration takes steps to ensure broad support for deep-space exploration

"The Coalition for Space Exploration, an ad-hoc organization of space industry businesses and advocacy groups, today announced it is taking formal steps to provide a single, unified voice for the deep-space exploration industry. The organization is seeking 501 (c) 6 status, appointing an executive director and changing the name of the organization to the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration."

Keith's note: The Coalition for Space Exploration was originally created by many aerospace companies to promote all aspects of space exploration and they managed to do a good job at being balanced and enthusiastic. That effort has now been taken over by the so-called "Four Amigos": Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aerojet, and Orbital ATK and will now be a de facto lobbying effort in Washington DC for SLS and Orion. It will be interesting to see how its new executive director Mary Lynne Dittmar deals with conflict of interest issues given that she also works for CASIS (which gets 99.9% of its funding from NASA) and is a member of the National Academies of Sciences Space Studies Board Executive Committee. Given the broad and overlapping aspects of all these jobs/positions, it is a little hard to see where government, private sector, and advisory aspects of her employment would not overlap at least once a day.

The Four Amigos and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post

Keith's update: Congress has been moving ahead with a budget today. Does this new organization speak out against the cuts to NASA commercial crew (which affects the 4 Amigos) or stay silent and only praise funding for SLS/Orion (which benefits the 4 Amigos)? Stay tuned.

Making More Orions

Lockheed Martin Moves into Full-Scale Assembly and Test of NASA's Orion Spacecraft

"Lockheed Martin and NASA have completed the majority of Orion's Critical Design Review (CDR) which means the spacecraft's design is mature enough to move into full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and test of the vehicle. It also means that the program is on track to complete the spacecraft's development to meet NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) performance requirements. The complete Orion EM-1 CDR process will conclude after the European Service Module CDR and a presentation to the NASA Agency Program Management Council in the spring."

NASA Completes Critical Design Review for Space Launch System

"Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. Credits: NASA"

Keith's note: OK - the Core stage color makes sense. But why do the SRBs have a disco-era paint scheme - like you'd expect to see on a 70s muscle car? Does this make the rocket go faster or easier to track? Did the SLS program formally decide on this? be honest it looks like someone saw the James Bond film "Moonraker" (left) a few too many times. Earlier NASA artist's concepts of SLS were done to make people think of the Saturn V. Before that Ares V images wanted you to know there was a shuttle hardware heritage. new SLS paint scheme has those swoops on the SRBs that sort of remind you of Space Shuttle wings that are no longer there - or the Rockwell International logo (they built the shuttle). These paint schemes are all political. Is this really what SLS is going to look like? If NASA is going to use graphic design to make their rocket look better they really need to consult professionals.

Larger image, Alternate view, Diagram, View of SLS in flight

- SLS, Saturn V, And Ares V Color Schemes (Update), earlier post
- Nickname for Liberty, earlier post
- Repainted Ares 1 For Sale as "Liberty", earlier post

Smith Condemns Administration's Space Exploration Delays

"NASA announced today that its schedule for the first crewed mission of SLS and Orion will slip to 2023; this represents a two year slip from previous plans for the first mission by 2021. The agency announced similar delays last fall. Smith has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for failure to request adequate funding for Orion and the Space Launch System; the administration's FY16 budget request proposed cuts of more than $440 million for the programs."

OIG Report on SLS/Orion Ground Systems, earlier post

"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."

GAO Sees Through NASA's SLS/Orion Smoke and Mirrors, earlier post

"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."

SLS Has Problems That Money Alone Will Not Fix, earlier post

"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."

Congress and GAO Have Doubts About SLS Costs, earlier post

"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."

Empty Promises On NASA's Road to Mars, earlier post

"Now Charlie Bolden seems to derive a certain amount of happiness by saying "we are no longer 20 years away from Mars". What he is really saying is "Hooray - we now suck less at NASA".

Negative Progress Towards Putting Humans on Mars, earlier post

Decision looms on when to introduce new SLS upper stage, Spaceflight Now

"Officials initially planned to power the upper stage with a J-2X engine, a modernized powerplant based on the J-2 engine designed in the Apollo era. But managers decided the J-2X, which had roots in the canceled Constellation moon program, was overpowered for the job and sidelined the engine after a series of hotfire ground tests. NASA spent more than $1.4 billion on the J-2X engine from 2006 through 2014, an agency spokesperson said."

Using Jedi Mind Tricks to Sell NASA's Next Big Rocket (2014), earlier post

"The initial plan was to launch EM-1 with an upper stage composed of a modified Boeing Delta IV upper stage i.e. the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). After trying this for several years, and spending $400 million or so, NASA realized that this was not going to work. So they are going to ask Boeing to deliver a standard Delta IV upper stage and use that. NASA then wants to commence work on a 4 engine Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) that will only be used a few times."

NASA Set for New Round Of J-2X Testing at Stennis Space Center, (2013) earlier post

"NASA's progress toward a return to deep space missions continues with a new round of upcoming tests on the next-generation J-2X rocket engine, which will help power the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) to new destinations in the solar system."

NASA OIG: Final Memorandum on the Review of NASA's Plan to Build the A-3 Facility for Rocket Propulsion Testing (2008), earlier posting

"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 OIG: NASA's Decision Process for Conducting Space Launch System Core Stage Testing at Stennis, (2014) earlier post

"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."

NASA Has No Clear Use for the J-2X That It Once Needed, earlier post

Space Launch System Program Moving Forward with Critical Design Review

"Milestone reviews like the critical design review are just that -- critical. The critical design review demonstrates that the SLS design meets all system requirements with acceptable risk, and accomplishes that within cost and schedule constraints. It also proves that the rocket should continue with full-scale production, assembly, integration, and testing and that the program is ready to begin the next major review covering design certification."

Keith's note: As you may have heard, NASA has been conducting the CDR for the SLS. Well, despite all of the happy talk about how the review went toward enabling NASA's #JourneyToMars sources report that this CDR suffered from some of the common things that such reviews are prone to suffer - especially at MSFC. According to sources two participating entities - FSO and IV&V (raised objections/concerns - or "reclamas" - that the SLS design is not totally mature - yet. At one point MSFC management had a meeting wherein FSO and IV&V reps were told that having independent reviewers at the CDR was a mistake since their staff simply did not know enough about the vehicle's design. I saw this behavior with my own eyes during Space Station Freedom design reviews at MSFC in the 1990s - its in the drinking water down there. No one from outside their center or organization could, by definition, know enough to have any value at a MSFC CDR. Then there's the last big rocket they worked on at MSFC a few years back ...

Ares PDR Was Not As Smooth As NASA Says It Was, earlier post (2008)

"NASA sources report that there are some red faces in Huntsville and that there is the obligatory witch hunt under way at MSFC to find guilty parties and to try and figure out how this information got outside of NASA. Suffice it to say that the way this post-PDR "survey" was done is laughable - and that this witch hunt will simply cause even more embarrassing information to surface."

NASA RS-25 SLS Engine Revs Up for Another Test [With Video]

"In auto racing parlance, NASA engineers put the "pedal to the metal" during a July 17 test of its Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine at Stennis Space Center."

"During a 535-second test, operators ran the RS-25 through a series of power levels, including a period of firing at 109 percent of the engine's rated power. Data collected on performance of the engine at the various power levels will aid in adapting the former space shuttle engines to the new SLS vehicle mission requirements, including development of an all-new engine controller and software."

Space Launch System: Management Tools Should Better Track to Cost and Schedule Commitments to Adequately Monitor Increasing Risk, GAO

"The cost and schedule estimates for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Space Launch System (SLS) program substantially complied with five of six relevant best practices, but could not be deemed fully reliable because they only partially met the sixth best practice--credibility. While an independent NASA office reviewed the estimate developed by the program and as a result the program made some adjustments, officials did not commission the development of a separate independent estimate to compare to the program estimate to identify areas of discrepancy or difference. In addition, the program did not cross-check its estimate using an alternative methodology."

Congress Must Fully Fund the Space Launch System, Roll Call

"The SLS vehicle design materialized from an extensive, unbiased set of NASA technical studies that compared all possible scenarios, with a focus on efficiency and budget constraints. Experts inside and outside of NASA were fully integrated into the decision-making process. Among the factors driving the selection of the 130 metric-ton SLS design were human exploration requirements, the state of propulsion technology, the health and capability of the industrial base and the overall budget outlook."

Keith's note: I had to read this several times. "Unbiased"? Hardly. I guess these guys think that if they say something often enough as an op ed it will become the truth. The SLS design was mandated in law by Congress to use Shuttle and Ares V leftovers so as to preserve jobs. NASA adjusted their plans to this mandate. Everything else was window dressing. To state otherwise is to spread false memories about things that never happened.

- More False Memories About the Origin (and Cost) of SLS, Earlier post

Bush's former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin says Obama's Space Launch System 'next essential step': guest opinion, Huntsville Times

"The SLS vehicle design materialized from an extensive, unbiased set of NASA technical studies which compared all possible scenarios, with a focus on efficiency and budget constraints."

Keith's note: "Unbiased", eh Mike? Nothing about "Apollo on Steroids" using Ares 1-X etc which also arose from what you call "an extensive, unbiased set of NASA technical studies which compared all possible scenarios" -- or the proscriptive language from the Senate (where did that come from, hmm?) as to what old Space Shuttle parts NASA was ordered to use along with left overs from your stalled and overpriced Ares program. (Sigh) I guess if you say this often enough in op eds people will eventually start to believe it out of sheer tedium and lack of long term memory - until there are problems with the launch vehicle in question. THEN they start to wonder how we got here to begin with. Rather, how we are still not out there as you and others had promised we'd be by now.

Then there's this other whopper from Mike: "And, contrary to some suggestions, SLS launches will cost no more than existing commercial U.S. systems - which are currently advertised at about $4.5 million per ton of payload." How can you possibly make such a statement when the number of launches is unknown - and a lot of SLS development was paid for by Ares V and not included in Mike's secret math. But who cares, right? No one inside or outside of NASA has ever grasped what it really costs for the agency to develop and launch things.

This op ed piece also appeared in The Hill last week. Oddly the same exact words in the Mike Griffin/Dan Dumbacher op ed in the Huntsville times ("Contrary to some suggestions, the SLS will be very competitive with the advertised price of commercial U.S. systems - on the order of $4.5 million per ton of payload.") are to be found in an op ed "U.S. will keep lead in space with NASA's launch system" that appeared several days ago in the Orlando Sentinel - but this op ed has Doug Cooke and Steve Cook as the authors. If you read the Huntsville Times and Orlando Sentinel op eds side by side you will see that they were clearly written by the same people. Once again the Ares V mafia is mounting a PR effort to convince everyone that they were right all along.

NASA makes music video for its huge new Mars rocket, CNet

"The minute-long animated teaser below, posted Tuesday, might manage to pump up those of us nerds who have been following NASA's ambitious yet often agonizingly slow (20 more years to Mars? Really? But we got to the Moon in 10 with the processing power of a graphing calculator...) plans to explore deeper into the solar system. However, the uninitiated might be more likely to respond with, "What's this? NASA made a video game?"

Keith's note: The video contains the shaky camera angles and "Matrix"-like slo-mo effects that are trendy these days. As for the "music", well it is just awful.

Incorrectly Built SLS Welding Machine To Be Rebuilt, Slashdot

"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."

NASA's Launch Support and Infrastructure Modernization: Assessment of the Ground Systems Needed to Launch SLS and Orion

"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 ..."

Aerojet, Wikipedia

"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!)

NASA's Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Ground Test [With Video], NASA

"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.

RS-25 Tested at Stennis

NASA Tests RS-25 Engine

"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."

Video: NASA Provides an Astronaut's-Eye View of Orion's Re-entry

"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."

GAO Testimony by Cristina Chaplain - Hearing on SLS and Orion

"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."

NASA Says SLS and Orion Will Slip to 2018 Despite Extra Funding, SpaceNews

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."

House SLS/Orion Hearing

"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.


Orion Is In Orbit

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.

Orion Cockpit Promo Video

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."

Smith to Bolden: Why Not Orion for Commercial Crew?, SpaceNews

"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."

Orion Spacecraft, Rocket Move Closer to First Flight, NASA

"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."

ULA Moves Delta IV Heavy to Launch Pad for Orion's Exploration Flight Test, ULA

"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)."

NASA Solicitation: Space Launch System RS-25 Core Engine

"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."

NASA Solicitation: Space Launch System Exploration Upper Stage Engine

"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.

Inside Kennedy Space Center and Spaceport Magazine, SpaceRef

"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."

The First Orion Crew Module Is Complete

"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."

SLS Resources Need to be Matched to Requirements to Decrease Risk and Support Long Term Affordability, GAO

"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."

Actions Needed to Improve Transparency & Assess Long-Term Affordability of Human Exploration Programs, GAO

"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."

Using Jedi Mind Tricks to Sell NASA's Next Big Rocket, SpaceRef

"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."

NASA commits to $7 billion mega rocket, 2018 debut, CBS

"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."

NASA Completes Key Review of World's Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars

"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 Holds Teleconference Today to Discuss Progress on World's Largest Rocket

"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:"

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 Exploration Systems Division Quarterly Report #2 - 2014 [Video], NASA

"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."

SLS Resources Need to be Matched to Requirements to Decrease Risk and Support Long Term Affordability, GAO

"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

Rep. Mo Brooks joins leaders asking NASA for answers to Russian rocket engine ban, Huntsville Times

"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.

Actions Needed to Improve Transparency and Assess Long-Term Affordability of Human Exploration Programs, GAO

"- 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."

Space Launch System Structural Test Stands to be Built at Marshall Space Flight Center

"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."

NASA OIG: NASA's Decision Process for Conducting Space Launch System Core Stage Testing at Stennis, earlier post

"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."

Russia Gives Green Light to Super-Heavy Rocket Project

"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 Educational and Outreach Support for NASA's Orion Program

"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

Space Launch System Program (SLSP) Lgistics Support Analysis (LSA) Report 26 April 2013, NASA

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)"

Space Launch System Program (SLSP) Integrated Logistics Support plan (ILSP), Version 1, 15 April 2013 , NASA

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."

NASA Conducts Orion Parachute Test

"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."

SpaceX Tests Dragon Parachute System

"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.

NASA's Decision Process for Conducting Space Launch System Core Stage Testing at Stennis, NASA OIG

"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's Defunct Project Survives on Mississippi Pork, Bloomberg

"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."

The NASA Launchpad To Nowhere, Time

"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."

Watchdogs hit NASA for spending $352 million in Mississippi on test stand already in Huntsville, Huntsville Times

"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 Solicitation: Crew Exploration Vehicle Cockpit Prototyping Phase Four

"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".

Keynote speaker at von Braun Symposium says NASA needs to 'try new strategies', Huntsville Times

"[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 Solicitation: J-2X Design, Development, Test and Evaluation (2006)

"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 Awarded $1.2 Billion NASA Contract for J-2X Ares Rocket Engine (2007)

"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 Practice Launching in NASA's New Orion Spacecraft, NASA

"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."

Defense and Civilian Agencies Request Significant Funding for Launch-Related Activities

"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."

Significant SLS Delays Ahead?

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."

Chris Kraft on NASA and SLS (Updated)

"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."

NASA's original flight director calls agency's direction a "tragedy", Ars Technica

"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."

Final Report - IG-13-022 - Status of NASA's Development of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

"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."

Artist Concept: NASA Space Launch System and Orion Spacecraft, SpaceRef

"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's Space Launch System Completes Preliminary Design Review, NASA

"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 defends Space Launch System against charge it 'is draining the lifeblood' of space program, Huntsville Times

"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 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."

Tenth Parachute Test for NASA's Orion Adds 10,000 Feet of Success [Watch], NASA

"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.

Orion's Heat Shield Takes Shape [Watch], NASA

"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 Tests Game Changing Composite Cryogenic Fuel Tank [Watch] NASA Marshall

"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."

Hot-Fire Tests Steering the Future of NASA'S Space Launch System Engines, NASA

"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's Space Launch System Program Kicks Off Preliminary Design Review, NASA

"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."

J-2X Update

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 Invites Media to View Space Launch System Progress, NASA

"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's Orion Program First Fairing Separation Test Provides Data To Validate Design, NASA

"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."

NASA, Partner Collaborate on Key Piece of Orion Hardware, OnOrbit

"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."

Production of Key Equipment Paves Way for NASA SLS RS-25 Testing, NASA Marshall

"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."

Little Love for Asteroid Retrieval Mission; Squyres Deeply Worried about SLS Launch Rate, Space Policy Online

"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."

FAA Reentry License to Lockheed Martin Corp. for Reentry of Orion MPCV From Earth Orbit to a Location in the Pacific

"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 Awards Contract to Modify Mobile Launcher

"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)

Drinking the SLS Koolaid

Boeing Executive Defends SLS as Only Deep-space Option, Space News

"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.

Senator: NASA to Lasso Asteroid, Bring it Closer, AP

"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 Asteroid Capture Mission: First Real Step in Utilizing Extraterrestrial Resources

"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.

Earlier Inspiration Mars posts

Senate funding measure gives NASA $2.1B for SLS for rest of 2013 (updated), Huntsvile Times

"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."

Explanatory Statement for the Senate Substitute Continuing Resolution (NASA Excerpts)

"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."

Mr. Rohrabacher's Additional Views on the Science Space & Technology FY 2014 Budget

"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."

Views and Estimates for FY 2014 Budget, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (NASA)

"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.

Marshall Space Flight Center may feel minimal hit from sequestration, Rep. Mo Brooks said, Huntsville Times

"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."

NASA MSFC Says That SLS Performance Specs Fall Under ITAR

"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 Workhorse to Power NASA's Orion Spacecraft

"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, ESA Hold TV Briefing on New Orion Agreement

"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 Awards Space Launch System Advanced Booster Contracts

"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."

NASA's Plans to Modify the Ares I Mobile Launcher in Support of the Space Launch System, NASA OIG

"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."

Hearing on SLS/Orion

Hearing: Examining NASA's Development of the Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule

"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."

- Hearing Charter
- Dan Dumbacher prepared statement
- Cleon Lacefield prepared statement
- Jim Chilton prepared statement
- Matt Mountain prepared statement

NASA Completes Maximum Parachute Test For Orion Spacecraft

"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."

NASA'S Space Launch System Passes Major Agency Review, Moves to Preliminary Design

"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 Selects Space Launch System Advanced Booster Proposals

"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."

Orion High-altitude Abort Test Faces Budget-driven Delay, SpaceNews

"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."

Sen. Hutchison Stresses Importance of Continued Progress on both Commercial and Government Space Launch Vehicles

"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."

Prepared statement by Bill Gerstenmaier

"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?

NASA Space Launch System Core Stage Moves From Concept to Design

"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 Successfully Completes Key Reviews of Space Launch System

"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.

Does SLS Threaten JSC?

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."

Unshaking Ares 1

How NASA Solved a $100 Million Problem for Five Bucks, Gizmodo

"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."

Big Rocket, Little Support

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."

Mike Leinbach Joins ULA

United Launch Alliance Names Mike Leinbach Director of Human Spaceflight Operations

"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

NASA Space Launch System Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction

"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."

NASA Industry Day: Space Launch System Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction

"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."

Video: J-2X Engine Test

Video: NASA's New Upper Stage J-2X Engine Passes Major Test

"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."



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