SLS

Surprise, surprise! First flight is probably going to slip into 2020, and it’s now now earlier than late 2019. As I noted on Twitter, the longer it’s delayed, the less likely it is to ever fly. And we’ll have wasted tens of billions on it.

[Update a few minutes later]

Great, the new editor in the WordPress mobile app won’t save links…

14 comments on this post.
  1. wodun:

    It looks like SLS is so entrenched that nothing can be done until a viable alternative is flying. Is NASA now friendly enough that they wouldn’t throw up roadblocks to SpaceX and BO?

    Maybe the better question is, are the relationships that SpaceX and BO have made at NASA, the military, and traditional government contractors enough to counter delaying interference from the porkers in congress?

  2. Karl Hallowell:

    The US military isn’t using SLS. I don’t know about Blue Origin, but nailing Falcon Heavy could do serious damage to US space military capability.

  3. wodun:

    I’m not sure what could be done to slow down or stop FH at this point. NG, BFR, and commercial crew though? But I think that is overly cynical. NASA wants all of these things and the hurdles they make the companies jump are probably just from NASA culture rather than a desire to get a couple SLS flights before the country realizes how bad the program is.

    Then the SLS argument will be that we need more than one launcher and the private sector can only provide one. That argument might be supported by some at NASA but will be a product of congress. If there wasn’t an element of corruption here, a good lesson in sunk costs and the dramatic cost/benefits of commercial crew/cargo for congress would be useful.

  4. GClark:

    It continues to do the job it’s Congressional supporters/designers intended it to do – funnel Federal dollars to the required States/Congressional Districts.

    By their standards,a very successful program.

  5. George Turner:

    Don’t worry. I have a plan to get the SLS into orbit and a new purpose for it.

    First off, get rid of the RS-25 engines because they’re too expensive for us to just throw into the ocean. They belong in museums, not on the ocean floor. We shouldn’t fuel the initial first stage because NASA had some problems with their friction stir-welding tool that may have compromised the structure. We can’t risk failure.

    That still leaves a huge structure (formerly known as a rocket) which could be sent into orbit by some cheap strap-on Falcon Heavies. Once in LEO, the SLS could serve as a depot where micro-tugs could store decommissioned and malfunctioning satellites instead of completely de-orbiting them.. Yes, the huge SLS core stage could be used as a giant orbiting junk yard. When kids look up late in the evening and asked what the really bright satellite is, parents will say “That’s a bunch of really expensive space junk.”

    We can do this. At least we can do this if NASA will abandon the idea of getting the darned thing off the ground under its own power.

  6. Leland:

    All of this reminds me of the days working ISS 20 years ago. A new schedule would drop. NASA would put out press releases like this time the schedule was no longer recorded with refrigerator magnet letters and numbers, but something more substantive like a grease pencil or dry erase marker. We young engineers would then look at the schedule and take bets on how many months the next one will slip and when it might come out.

    Seriously, how many people here are buying 2020 for first flight, other than that’s what you might have guessed back in 2011 when Shuttle quit flying?

  7. Godzilla:

    Yes but back then NASA’s only other competitor, the Soviet Union, collapsed on itself while the ESA Space Station project was canceled because the Germans had to pay for their reunification costs. The Italians were reasonably miffed about it. People don’t give them enough credit really, they invest quite a lot in space, especially manned space, compared with other EU countries. It’s where most of the EU ISS modules were manufactured for example. They also manufacture some Ariane 5 components although that’s of mostly French/German manufacture.

  8. Leland:

    I’m sure that seemed like a great point, and certainly it was made at the time. But here’s the thing; RSA wasn’t nearly as behind on the FGB or SM as Boeing was with USL. It was convenient to point to FGB or SM delays, because they were there and first to launch. The reality was USL software delay hurt the schedule more than the FGB or SM delays. We can argue the quality of the FGB components that were launched, such as the battery design.

    However all of that discussion misses why there was a delay then and now. The US DOD/NASA procurement model promotes the generation of change orders to pad profits, and each change causes delays. I’m not sure what the Soviets had to do with the US procurement model. Is it like how the Russians manipulated the election?

  9. Godzilla:

    Well originally there were supposed to be TWO stations. Mir-2 and Freedom. The fall of the Soviet Union canceled both and modules of each were merged into the ISS. I can’t say I’m a fan of that, but at least it allow the space station projects to continue somehow.

  10. Godzilla:

    My point is they needed not be in a rush to do it. With SLS it will be quite different and will go down in history as a colossal waste.

  11. Richard M:

    Now, the real puzzle is whether EM-1 can even launch in 2020.

    And if it can’t, that will endanger not only the notional launch window for Europa Clipper, but even its backup launch window in 2023. Since, you know, it will take 33 months to redo the GSE for Block 1B, and the clock for that doesn’t start to tick until EM-1 has left the pad.

    Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest idea to insist on launching EM-1 with a second stage which never be used again, and which was sized so differently that it would require rebuilding the launch tower access.

    Perhaps (for sake of argument, play along with me) it’s not entirely daft of NASA or congressional appropriators to demand actual flight success of commercial heavy lifters before abandoning SLS as a hedge. But the way things are going, they’re really going to give all the time in the world to those commercial operators to do just that before SLS ever launches with a genuine payload. Because right now, that looks like six years from now at the earliest.

    In related news, Chris G reports today that New Glenn is still on track for a 2020 launch debut at LC-36 at the Cape. https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2017/11/blue-origin-2020-debut-new-glenn-rocket/

  12. Karl Hallowell:

    Perhaps (for sake of argument, play along with me) it’s not entirely daft of NASA or congressional appropriators to demand actual flight success of commercial heavy lifters before abandoning SLS as a hedge.

    They have flight success of commercial heavy lifters for decades. Deliberately sizing missions (sometimes just barely, as with the ISS components and Orion capsule) so that they’ll be out of reach of current and near future heavy lift is just another game played to rationalize things like SLS.

  13. Arizona CJ:

    I’m now convinced that SLS can be a success, if they slightly adjust the mission parameters for EM-1, EM-2, etc.

    All they need to do is delete one small thing: launch.

  14. peterh:

    Dirty little not so secret: The people pushing SLS don’t care it it ever flies so long is pork is delivered to the “right” people.

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