- NASA Watch
- May 28, 2023
Congress and GAO Have Doubts About SLS Costs
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.”
Let’s see… in spring/summer 2011 NASA told the Senate that their assessment of the funding requirements for SLS would not fit within the likely budget runout. A then-sitting Senator told NASA and OMB “don’t worry about the money, just start the program.”
Now we are finding that the schedule is slipping, possibly because of budget.
As Keith pointed out earlier… haven’t we been to this movie already?
I am trying to decide what kind of movie..horror..comedy…satire..mmmm
I’m thinking all-star disaster movie, with Ernest Borgnine as Senator Shelby.
You mean the posiden adventure the movie
with Ernest Borgnine big star actor!
We are the Borgnine. Resistance is futile.
The Towering SLS?
Now THERE is an idea..what would the name of this “movie” be? “the Rocket that Couldn’t”?
Many in the House knew this was a bad deal… I will name names:
Shelia Jackson Lee
All of these congressmen had direct knowledge of this and as James Muncy points out – the Senate was hell bent on starting because once the SLS monster is started its very, very hard to stop it… that is until it collapses on itself.
We are starting to see the cracks now.
Being a jobs program, SLS was never about going to Mars or anywhere else in the solar system quickly. Even Orion isn’t the spacecraft NASA intended years ago, and as for a habitation module or lander it rules out meaningful exploration by American astronauts which even comes close to matching robotic spaceprobes.
Well, all it took was a new President to stop Constellation. Whether that collapsed on itself or not is disputable to Mr. Obama killing Constellation, especially given that Sen. Obama said he would defer for five years (which was universally read as ‘cancel’) Constellation while on the campaign trail in late 2007, so clearly he never supported the program in the first place.
That is so true.
Look – blaming Obama for CxP is just wrong. CxP was dying in 2008 and really in the death roll in 2009. Augustine said as much. If you are really upset with all this you can thank the Democrats in the Senate and the Republicans in the House.
One of the dirty little secrets, sadly, about the NASA budget is that it is about .43 of 1 percent of the entire United States Budget. No one really gives a damn other than those with NASA districts.
What many of us (re)learned is that when it came time for NASA Authorization and Appropriations language to go through the bodies of congress – a few congressmen and senators with NASA in their districts or states just called around and said this is what we want, “we know what needs to happen”. That was a direct quote.
If more congressmen and senators outside of those districts and states actually paid attention to NASA instead of relying on people like Posey, Brooks, Nelson, and Mikulski; we might actually get some things done.
Just curious, is anything ever going to be this President’s fault, even a little? Augustine certainly did not “say as much”, they said it needed more money to achieve (a surprise to no one), and they offered the Flexible Path (“pay as you go”) as an option in light of the budget problems at the height of the Great Recession.
Sure. But not this.
Many of the names on this list are so right wing they’d vote against apple pie.
I seem to remember that Bill Nelson said that $3B a year was more than enough to do it in a reasonable schedule. That statement, IIRC, also included a heavy threat along the lines of: “If you can’t do it, then you shouldn’t be in this business”.
I would take the opportunity to read to that Sen. from the Congressional record his very words. If he’s not serious about going into space, and doing it appropriately, call his bluff. Tell him if he’s not serious, cut off the funding, shut off the lights, and we can all go home and the US can become the Portugal of the 21st century. By the way, this kind of demagoguery is not limited to NASA it’s a pandemic throughout the federal bureaucracy, of which I deal with every day.
It was not said on the Senate floor. And the speaker was not male.
Was this on any kind of record? Somebody call McCain?
If you read the full report it is chock full of little disclaimers about schedule and costs. The seven months of schedule padding that keeps getting mentioned is already 70% used up and points out many things that they know are going to already eat into that margin.
Cancel now.. save the taxpayer billions.
Disclaimers? Shocking. Every damn thing I read or hear NASA people say is full of ‘preliminary’. It’s no wonder, really. Living in a glass house, I suppose.
I have a radical idea. Instead of telling Congress what you think they want to hear; try telling the truth. Then perhaps Congress can be honest enough to let the rate of SLS development be determined by the technological problems not the drip, drip, drip of the current anemic funding. Current space exploration budgets are pathetic.
Telling the truth would require telling Congress that SLS is a waste of money, and they won’t hear that.
So you say, but I and others think different. Commercial Cargo & perhaps Crew in a capsule to LEO is okay; if you have an “anomaly” on orbit you can always pull the plug and come home. But I think most people before they punch up a trans-Mars injection burn, would want to do it in something that wasn’t made by the lowest bidder. If you’re going to risk your neck on a two-year mission to Mars with no return, I would still choose to embrace NASA quality assurance, rather than RadioShack quality assurance. Many of the Xophiles believe we’re going to explore the solar system on the cheap…well maybe so, we’ll have to wait and see about that.
I think you have an under appreciation of all the problems technical and human involved; as well as an over appreciation for the amount of risk tolerance this American public has. I understand the space exploration will always be risky; but there is risky… And then there is risky. We all saw the kind of scrutiny that NASA came under for Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia. The ball kept going forward only because it was the space exploration program of the American people. It will be an entirely different thing if a private, for-profit enterprise knocks off some American “Heroes” on a BEO mission, in a vehicle designed to a different paradigm than a traditional NASA product. The word “Scrutiny” won’t quite cover what will happen to the commercial guys.
Well, I know that I’m in for it now. I’ve offended the gods on Mount Olympus. Go ahead and let me have it.
I think you underestimate the contractors whose names aren’t Boeing, Lockmart, ATK, et al.
As for your “Radio Shack” quality assurance: please don’t beat around the bush. If you’re going to make accusations do so and provide evidence. Otherwise you should understand that suspicion and doubt aren’t facts.
All the “NASA” vehicles were built by contractors, and not necessarily the low bidders. Most of the contractors at KSC with real hands-on experience were fired when Shuttle was terminated.
“gods of Mount Olympus”
:). You are funny lol
My understanding of politicians is that they will only hear what they want to hear and, if you tell them differently, they’ll malign you and demand that you are replaced with someone who will tell them what they want to hear.
Maybe. But staff is different and that’s what bothers me about the entire SLS thing. It’s so obviously a big damn pig with no future that I want to know really how they defend it. Purely on jobs? Maybe. It sure saved Osprey, and other projects.
SLS reminds me of Korolev’s N1 rocket, a huge rocket but given a limited budget (Soviet politburo had lots of infighting over their space program budget). N1 suffered flight problems because many developmental and ground tests were not done. Limited budget may stretch out SLS schedule, unless shortcuts in developmental activities are taken but don’t have it explode like N1.
Given the billions spent on Ares/SLS, I find your definition of “limited budget” somewhat amusing.
Today’s NASA enjoys neither the funding of Apollo/Saturn era development nor the nearly universal public support of that era. The whole concept of building the biggest launch vehicle in history is quite dumb when you consider the funding issues. That’s what killed Apollo/Saturn and yet here we are with history quite probably repeating itself.
The differences today in my mind are twofold.
1. Congress seems content to throw a billion or two at this program year after a year despite the delays and despite the absence of visible progress. To Congress, it’s little more than a jobs program for the NASA centers and companies who used to be involved in the shuttle program. This is governmental and corporate welfare at its finest.
2. We’re seeing relatively rapid and significant cost reductions in the private sector. Both development and operations costs are being slashed by more than an order of magnitude compared to the typical NASA/contractor style relationship which is what we have with SLS.
These two factors seem to be combining to form an environment where SLS will likely fly a few times, but somewhere down the road, it will become clear that it’s simply not worth the high cost to do business this way. That time will likely come when private companies like SpaceX and non-NASA programs like DARPA’s reusable first stage make expendable launch vehicles look positively primitive by comparison on both cost and reliability.
Maybe I should have said NASA has limited budget with SLS consuming much leaving little for payloads and missions. Like N1, SLS does not have full support but just enough to continue on. Like so many on this site say SLS will fly but cancel after a few flights (which what happened with N1).
Also slashdot has taken up the diatribe on SLS,
SLS hasn’t been given a limited budget. The combined budget for SLS/Orion is around $3 billion per year. That’s more than enough to develop a family of heavy lift launchers and capsules.
[Likewise the operating budget of the ISS is around $3 billion per year. Which is unacceptable to merely operate a completed space station.]
$3B per year is more than enough only in the event of a competent or sane development program to spend that money. The problem is that the arsenal-type procurement strategy is neither competent or sane and will spend money on itself (rather than the end product) as quickly as you can shovel it on.
However that means that asking for more money won’t improve the program, nor improve the agency. It will just get swallowed up by the same process. The problem is not the size of the budget.
Precisely. Since the time of the CxP debacle I have increasingly felt that the answer is root-and-branch reform of the structures and procedures of NASA itself.
The answer is not to use NASA to build rockets at all.
Is it possible to restructure NASA so that it would work?
How would you restructure NASA so that it could work?
If NASA got more money wouldn’t it just waste more money?
Isnt it true that SLS money and ISS money go to other overhead type expenses as well has to employ thousands of managers that do little but think Space as Newt Said.
Again Paul451’s comments state the truth but you will see few people carrot up here.
Seems to me that most of the people that read Nasa watch are pro big spending, do little programs, like SLS because it is in their interest.
It “seems, as you say, that you have severe anti-NASA bias despite your claims otherwise.
If you’re going to make claims, make them as statements instead of as questions. At least try to support your claims instead of pretending to ask questions.
Do not have antie NASA bias Mr. squared
I think much of NASA doesn’t work
And I want some one to tell me how to fix it!
Above you say that telling congress the truth about SLS will do no good?
OK ? How do you fix the SLS problem Mr. Squared?
Do you try to kill it how?
Wait till it dies itself??
Try to keep it alive and do something with it that’s slightly useful?
Mr. Squared the fixes for NASA would and should be radical if we are to have a space agency that REALLY helps us get into space.
I asks questions because I hope some of you might know the answers
I seems to me Mr. Squared that most of what I read here is whining about how hopeless it all is. When we need solutions
Got any solutions Sir?
Other than don’t tell the truth continue the Lie of SLS????
Short answer: No.
Long answer: Because NASA hasn’t learnt anything in the last couple of decades about program and project management as well as having programs dictated by Congress who are only interested in all honesty in how many jobs the program funds.
Sad but true.
I think NASA has always known exactly how much it will cost to get this baby off the ground. I am certain they have let Congress know. Then Congress says well you can only have this much. NASA can only do one thing on something they are mandated by Congress to do, delay the schedule. “You pretend to pay us enough to get this puppy off the ground, and we will pretend to build.” However, this puppy will be built. Too many senators use NASA in all their reelection beaches. It may take longer than planned, but there will be 130 metric ton SLS at some point.
Not if there’s a 130 ton Super Falcon first.
And the only reason they care about how many jobs it funds is that affects how many votes it will buy.
As with Ares I/V before it, both the detractors and supporters of SLS miss the point.
It isn’t the development cost. Sooner or later, that ends — either by cancellation or by finishing the system.
It is the operating cost. That goes on forever, until a system is replaced. And NASA does not and likely will not have the budget to operate the SLS and to develop missions to fly on it. Nor will it have the budget to operate the SLS and develop a lower-operating-cost replacement. It is that, not the vagaries of development schedule and slips, which makes super-heavy lift such a poor policy choice.
I keep bringing this up. And I keep getting told one of two things. 1) SLS is “good”, SpaceX is “bad”. Any problems are Obama’s fault. The next president will be a “strong leader” who will give us a blank check. Or they say 2) We know SLS will be canceled. But keep your mouth shut. You won’t change anything except to make people decide you aren’t a “team player”.
“Do you stand by your testimony”…..
Bolden, Gerstenmaier: ‘well if you notice,senator, I’ve never taken a position on anything I have said because I don’t have one. I am an Administrator, and I don’t claim to be a leader. I just try to do what I am told, by the POTUS, Congress, whoever…..and I just report to you what I am told and what I hear…..its not like I have much of a technical background in these subjects…..’
Haha! Sounds like the latest Republican ploy: “I’m not a scientist!”!
I wish Senator Nelson would acknowledge the elephant in the room.
Which is why CxP was canceled and we should have focused on commercial crew. However, once Shelby, Nelson, and Hutchison saw the massive job losses at MSFC, KSC, and JSC – well we all know what happened.
Not only harsh, but stupid and short sighted. Never accuse the political class of looking longer than their nose.
No. Falcon Heavy is manifested to fly next year- next year! with a demo and then a USAF mission. Even if it slips a year it will be flying before SLS>
The contrast between NASA+congress’ drunken meanderings and SpaceX is striking. NASA: constellation with nowhere to go, followed by Orion with nothing to launch it, followed by SLS with no way to land. SpaceX: Falcon 1 to prove the engine, Falcon 5 for multi-engine, Falcon heavy for multi-core; also, Grasshopper to achieve reusability, Dragon 1 to prove capsule and ablation shield, Dragon 2 + SuperDraco for retro-rocket landing, now Raptor for methane fuelled rocket required for a Mars return mission. This systematic and methodical program at a fraction of NASA’s budget and in less than a decade, and my money is on SpaceX putting together a Mars return mission long before NASA. I’m guessing there are some incredibly frustrated engineers inside NASA and those that haven’t already left soon will. NASA might still serve as a means of collecting and funnelling public funds, but they can’t develop hardware any more.
Very true. Augustine didn’t say it couldn’t be done and done appropriately. You just have to pay for what you want.
But you’re wrong about the “been there, done that president.” We were Tail-End Charlie in his Inaugural Parade in more ways than one, and have been loosing ground ever since. He doesn’t give a poop about space exploration; he tepidly supports commercial space because its cheap, cheap, cheap.
it really doesn’t matter what it costs, we can argue the true costs until we are blue in the face. it will end up costing whatever they can spend on it, even if they have to shut down other programs to steal their funding. the webb telescope fiasco has proven that.
The longer we argue, the more money wasted second guessing.
Start designing and building now, in five years when its well along, the vast majority of current nasa bureaucrats/dinosaurs will have retired and their replacements will have the opportunity to refocus the program.
Their is no perfect design, real engineers should know that.
All designs will work, its the opinions that wont.
It’s a known fact that this administration is deliberately slow walking our next national space program. But they want to make sure the Russians stay employed