SLS and Orion: July 2013 Archives

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 al.com and The Huntsville Times in a July 23 interview, "but I think we need to realize there's a broader set of trades that really form up the decision process."

Dumbacher referred to "Revisting SLS/Orion launch costs" by John Strickland published July 15 on the website The Space Review. Strickland is a member of the board of directors of the National Space Society, but wrote the article independently."

Update: The Congressional debate over NASA's asteroid capture mission ignores the ageny's real spaceflight problem, Houston Chronicle

"Being the subject of congressional infighting, of course, does NASA no good. But this battle is a distraction from NASA's real problem, which neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to acknowledge. Namely, the space agency is being tasked with building a huge and powerful rocket it will not be able to afford to fly."

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."


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