SLS and Orion: May 2017 Archives

NASA OIG: Construction of Test Stands 4693 and 4697 at Marshall Space Flight Center

"In an attempt to meet a 2017 launch date for the SLS, NASA expedited construction of the test stands and paid the contractor a premium of approximately $7.6 million to complete construction on a compressed timetable. Moreover, because the stand designs were based on preliminary testing specifications, the requirements and testing capabilities that would be needed were not fully understood when the construction contract was awarded. As the testing requirements matured, NASA modified the contract to meet changing requirements, added additional features, and made other modifications that raised the contract price by $20.3 million. In addition, NASA did not establish adequate funding reserves to cover these changes and therefore had to secure $35.5 million in additional funding over the planned budget. Finally, because NASA did not adequately consider alternative locations before selecting Marshall as the site for the test stands, it cannot ensure it made the most cost-effective decision regarding where to build the stands."

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

"In July 2008, the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) examined allegations that NASA's plan to build the A-3 test stand at Stennis to test its J-2X engine would duplicate capabilities of an Air Force testing facility in Tennessee. The OIG found NASA failed to follow both its own internal procedures and the process it had agreed to with the Department of Defense (DOD) to avoid costly duplication of test stands when making decisions where to test rocket engines."

- Too Many Test Stands at NASA?, earlier post
- OIG Slaps NASA on Un-Needed Stennis Test Stands - Again, earlier post

Keith's 16 May update: According to NASA PAO there is "no Orion program interest in buying another Delta". That said there have been meetings at NASA where this was openly discussed - since I have spoken to people who have been in those meetings. What constitutes "program interest" means different things to different people. If there is no interest in the topic then why do they talk about it at meetings?

Keith's 15 May note: Sources within NASA report that there is interest in buying another Delta IV Heavy for an Orion mission. NASA launched the first Orion mission - EFT-1 on a Delta IV Heavy in 2014. Speculation about the interest in another Orion flight on a Delta IV Heavy often surfaces with an expression of doubt with regard to the future viability of SLS and whether it will be used to loft human crews. Some have suggested that Lockheed Martin may propose an Orion variant for a future commercial crew procurement opportunity. Congress has also expressed renewed interest in Orion visits to ISS and put language into the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 addressed "the ability of Orion to meet the needs and the minimum capability requirements described in section 303(b)(3) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010." NASA was supposed to deliver a report to Congress within 60 days of the bill becoming law - which means that the report is past due. Oh yes: Delta IV Heavy is not human rated - yet. Stay tuned.

GAO Report: NASA: Assessments of Major Projects

"Three of the largest projects in this critical stage of development-- Exploration Ground Systems, Orion, and the Space Launch System-- continue to face cost, schedule, and technical risks. In April 2017, we found that the first integrated test flight of these systems, known as Exploration Mission-1, will likely be delayed beyond November 2018.14 NASA concurred with our findings and is currently conducting an assessment to establish a new launch date. Because NASA's assessment is ongoing, the cost implications of the schedule delay and its effect on the projects' baselines are still unknown. However, given that these three human space exploration programs represent more than half of NASA's current portfolio development cost baseline, a cost increase or delay could have substantial repercussions not only for these programs but NASA's entire portfolio."

Keith's note: Sources report that NASA is looking at using the EM-2 SLS launch vehicle for the EM-1 mission due to hydrogen tank issues on the EM-1 vehicle. NASA is also looking at using the EM-3 SLS launch vehicle to fly the EM-2 mission. In addition, NASA is considering a delay in issuing the SLS block buy procurement notice (EM-3 and beyond) originally due out in June into Oct 2017 i.e. pushing its issuance into FY 2018. No one knows that NASA's budget will be for FY 2018. Stay tuned.

NASA Decides Against Putting Crew On EM-1, earlier post

NASA Decision On Crewed EM-1 Feasibility, NASA

"We are grateful for the near-term flexibility offered by the FY 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, and we are confident that we remain technically capable of launching crew on EM-1. However, after evaluating cost, risk, and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it is difficult to accommodate changes needed for a crewed EM-1 mission at this time."

NASA pays the price of being subjected to a massive, expensive rocket, Ars Technica

"In the face of political pressure, then, NASA chose prudence. Yet the evidently shrewd short-term decision to hold crew off the maiden flight of the SLS rocket could not mask a larger political problem that NASA has grappled with for nearly this entire decade. Simply, it has been tasked with building a massive, complicated rocket that it can't really afford."

NASA delays debut launch of $23 billion moon rocket and capsule, Reuters

"By the end of the next fiscal year on September 30, 2018, NASA will have spent $23 billion on the rocket, capsule, launch site and support systems, according to an audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General. That excludes $9 billion spent on the mothballed Constellation lunar exploration program, which included initial development of the Orion and a second heavy-lift rocket."

NASA won't put astronauts on first flight of new rocket, Washington Post

"We're essentially building a multi-decadal infrastructure that allows us to move the human presence into the solar system," [William] Gerstenmaier said. The commercial space sector - including SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos (who also owns The Washington Post) - is racing to develop its own rockets that are comparable in scale to the SLS. "This really isn't about NASA vs. SpaceX, or NASA vs. Blue Origin, it's more about the past way of doing business vs. how do we run the government more like a business," [Phil] Larson said."

Keith's 11 May note: This is not going to position NASA in a good place. Safety issues not withstanding, NASA has big, chronic delays with the overall SLS program. Then the SLS software program is shown to be bogus. Then they have welding issues. Then they drop the LOX dome. Now there is no way to do EM-1 without money that will never be there. And even if the money was there the existing slip would simply be magnified by attempts to human-rate the SLS to be used for EM-1, bring Orion systems forward etc. There are not enough people or capacity to take the extra money even if it was there.

Slipping to late 2019 is just going to give fuel to those who think that there are SLS alternatives i.e. commercial. SLS is not necessarily dead, but the chance that humans will ever fly on it are becoming increasingly remote. At best, one might expect a batch order for a half dozen or so planetary missions or large cargo launches so as to save face and do something with the immense investment made in the whole AresV/SLS thing. If Trump wants NASA to go to Mars while he is still in office he is going to need a Plan B. But Boeing and SpaceX would have to show that they are up to the task since they have been slipping launch dates too.

Keith's 12 May additional note: At the end of the day this is all about risk - engineering, programatic, and human. Dealing with risk takes time and time = money. There comes a point when the time/money you need to retire added risk exceeds the benefits that come with adding that new risk. That seems to be the case with the EM-1 crew exercise. Trying to retire risk atop a program that is already struggling to reduce risk is just asking for trouble - and the unlearning of lessons learned with great difficulty. It would seem that NASA has come to this conclusion - and they would not be making this announcement without coordination with the White House. One would assume that the White House understands the rationale behind this decision to decline putting a crew on EM-1.

Keith's 1:31 pm EDT note: Sources report that a LOX dome for the SLS under construction was dropped and is damaged beyond repair. The accident also damaged some tooling. There are reportedly enough parts to build a new LOX dome but that is going to affect a lot of schedules. David Beaman is heading up an investigation team. More to follow.

Keith's 7:00 pm EDT update: NASA PAO provided this statement: "NASA and Boeing formed independent investigation teams to evaluate an incident that occurred while manufacturing test hardware for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans May 3. Initial assessments indicate damage to the rear (aft) dome of a liquid oxygen tank, which is part of the rocket's 212-foot core stage. Assessments are underway to determine the extent of the damage. There were no injuries. As required by protocol, the Vertical Assembly Center tool was shut down and secured. NASA is evaluating next steps to safely resume operations with the VAC."

Keith's 9 May note: After leaving it online for 4 days with (last time I checked) 525 retweets and more than 200 likes, this tweet easily resulted in millions of Twitter impressions. It was factually wrong, NASA knew it was incorrect, admitted that it was incorrect, but let it stay online all this time, thus deliberately misinforming millions of taxpayers, students etc. This is what the tweet looked like before it was deleted.
And of course, @NASA_SLS left their correction online without the original tweet that it was correcting. Go figure.

Keith's note: Tweets from the "ULCATS Symposium: Igniting An Industrial and National Security Revolution in Space" held this morning in Washington, DC. I asked Newt Gingrich how the Trump Administration could support ULCATS (Ultra-Low Cost Access to Space) such as described in this new report done for the USAF - yet simultaneously support UHCATS - Ultra HIGH Cost Access to Space offered by NASA's SLS program. Gingrich looked like he was waiting for this question and was clearly not a fan of SLS or other large, expensive launch systems supported by the government. More tweets at #ulcats



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This page is an archive of entries in the SLS and Orion category from May 2017.

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