SLS and Orion: May 2016 Archives

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.


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This page is an archive of entries in the SLS and Orion category from May 2016.

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