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Is NASA’s SLS Doomed?

Old 30th Jul 2021, 11:13
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Is NASA’s SLS Doomed?

NASA’ big tardy rocket isn’t doomed - but it seem’s kinda doomed

When the NASA space shuttle program ended pretty much a decade ago last week (the final mission was on July 21, 2011), it was hard to think about what would come next, especially if you grew up with the inspiring NASA live footage of the shuttle going to and returning to Earth.

Would a private company make rockets and sell their services to NASA? That kind of thinking might’ve seemed dangerous a decade ago, trusting a privately owned company with the lofty purposes of NASA.

And yet, NASA’s major rocket system to send humans and space science back into the great unknown may be doomed. The Space Launch System, or SLS for short, “would be the most powerful rocket we've ever built,” NASA has proclaimed. The problem is that it’s getting more expensive and further behind schedule.

Meanwhile, companies like SpaceX are getting results with engineering and developing their own rockets.

So, if you’re NASA, you don’t pause the mission progress to wait for your own tardy rocket. You contract with SpaceX. And that could maybe spell doom for SLS. It’s our lead story today. Keep scrolling to read more about it in a story from the new guy, Jon Kelvey.

SPACEX: NASA’s Europa deal reveals the tricky politics of space rockets

Hidden within the icy shell
of Jupiter’s moon Europa, there is an ocean — one which may host some form of life. Exploring this watery world is one of NASA’s top priorities for the next decade. That’s why the agency is pouring so much effort into a mission to explore the moon’s oceans — the Europa Clipper — which will launch in October 2024.

But earlier this month, NASA announced it is altering the mission in one critical way. The Clipper will launch SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and not atop NASA’s flagship launch vehicle, the Space Launch System.

The decision raises new questions about the future of the Space Launch System, which NASA continues to say is a cornerstone of its Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024. It also tells us a lot about the symbiotic relationship between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the agency.…..

That doesn’t mean the SLS won’t fly at all, though. In fact, Forczyk is certain it will.

“SLS has from the beginning been a political rocket,” she says. “A rocket that the Senate had decided that NASA needed to build to keep NASA expertise and contractor jobs in certain key districts.”

So long as powerful political supporters of the SLS, such as Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson are in office, the rocket will continue to be developed — for the time being anyway….

When first announced in 2011, the vision was to make the first uncrewed tests flights with SLS in late 2017. Almost four years after that date, NASA is still in the middle of assembling this 188,000-pound behemoth as of June 2021.

In addition to being behind schedule, the SLS is also projected to be more expensive to operate than the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. SLS launches will run around $2 billion, while the reusable Falcon Heavy launches for $90 million a pop.

These differences flow directly from the SLS’s status as a political project rather than a technical solution to the problem of lofting people and cargo into orbit, according to Forcyzk.

NASA states that people and material from all 50 U.S. states will help to build the SLS. This is “because it is politically beneficial to mention how NASA touches all 50 states, but it is not a way to build a cost-effective rocket,” Forcyzk says.

SpaceX and other private launch providers are not so constrained by patriotism and politics.

This is a reminder that NASA is a political organization run by the U.S. government, Forczyk says. But it’s also a science and technology organization.

“[NASA] will choose the rocket that is the best available, assuming that Congress doesn’t interfere otherwise” for the mission at hand, she says. “Which is exactly what [NASA has] just done with the Europa Clipper,” she adds….

WHAT’S NEXT — If all goes according to plan, the Europa Clipper will launch for Europa aboard a Falcon Heavy in October 2024 and reached the Jupiter system by April 2030.

An SLS-powered Clipper, if NASA had gone that route, could have powered the Europa Clipper to Jupiter a little faster, by August 2027, according to a presentation made by Europa Clipper Project Scientist Robert Pappalardo in 2020.

But the SLS will be sticking to the Artemis program, with Artemis I scheduled to launch an uncrewed Orion space capsule to the Moon, orbit it, and then come back to Earth in November 2021. It will then power the Artemis II and III missions in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Of course, the rocket is still not fully built at the time of writing.

Ultimately, Forczyk believes it would take a lot to keep the SLS rocket from being the one to fly these critical Artemis missions to space — albeit maybe not this year.

“The only thing I can see happening that would kill it would be complete, absolute complete failure,” she says, “and that would be unfortunate because a lot of really good people have worked on the program.”
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Old 8th Aug 2021, 18:23
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It's a political rocket to nowhere. Other than as a jobs and contractor shareholder enrichment program, it serves no purpose. Will it be able to do things Falcon Heavy and Starship can't do? Maybe. Cost effective and timely? Absolutely not.

IMHO, this is what you get when large programs are subjected to political whims--constantly changing along with the politics of the day and therefore hugely expensive and ridiculously stretched out development.

How different things were back in the 60s, when there was a goal (beat the Soviets to the moon) and a deadline (before this decade is out). Apparently beating the Chinese to the moon doesn't provide the same motivation.
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Old 3rd Mar 2022, 06:18
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This is ridiculous. Look at the cost to put a crewed Artemis in orbit around the moon, in a single use launcher and capsule, to transfer to a Starship lander waiting for them.

Then look at the scale of the reusable Starship missions to get the lander there - and keep and refuel it there for future missions at a fraction of the cost.

And all on the taxpayers dollars… Not only is the entire Starship program 1/40 the cost - the taxpayer isn’t paying for it.

Artemis: Nasa’s return to moon to cost an ‘unsustainable’ $4.1bn per mission

America’s return to the moon will cost more than $4.1 billion per mission, making it unsustainable in the long term, the space agency’s inspector-general has warned.

The total cost of Nasa’s lunar programme, Artemis, will have ballooned to $93 billion by 2025 — before it even gets its new rocket off the planet for a test flight.

“That is a price tag that strikes us as unsustainable,” Paul Martin, the space agency’s inspector-general, told a hearing of the House space and aeronautics subcommittee.

The warning throws into question the long-term future of Nasa’s new Space Launch System (SLS) — the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that flew humans to the moon from 1968 to 1972 under the Apollo programme.

The ever-increasing costs are unlikely to derail SLS in the near term but questions have persisted for years as to the wisdom of continuing with its development. By comparison, SpaceX’s Starship launch vehicle — also currently under development and aiming for its first uncrewed test-flight around the earth this year — comes in at about 1/40th of the pricetag….

The programme has faced schedule delays, cost overruns and a “confusing mishmash of contract types and untried approaches to organisations and management”, Don Beyer, a Virginia congressman and the committee’s chairman, said.….

Martin laid part of the blame at the door of Nasa contractors including Boeing, which he accused of “poor planning and poor execution” and on Congress for contracting procedures that he said had failed to incentivise timely delivery of developmental milestones.
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Old 17th Mar 2022, 10:37
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Rollout scheduled for later today.

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Old 25th Jul 2022, 09:21
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NASA prepares for mission to return to the moon, targets late August launch of Artemis I

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – NASA is now targeting the morning of August 29 for the launch of its monstrous Space Launch System rocket and the Artemis I mission to the moon, the agency announced Wednesday, the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing….

The Artemis I mission, slated to send an uncrewed Orion capsule around the moon and back, is set to liftoff from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Teams are confident that their work has positioned them to launch the Artemis I mission in late August. Two other possible launch opportunities were identified as backups, September 2 and September 5.

If NASA is unable to launch the Space Launch System (SLS) during that timeframe, the rocket would have to be rolled back to the agency's Vehicle Assembly Building again for pre-launch work and would likely target another attempt no earlier than mid-October…..

If the SLS is able to launch the Artemis I mission on August 29 teams will target a liftoff during a two-hour window which would open at 8:33 a.m. ET.…

The mission is designed to be long-duration and last as long as 42 days with a targeted splashdown return of the Orion capsule no earlier than October 10.

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