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NASA's Space Launch System Searches For a Mission 53

schwit1 writes: Managers of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) are searching for a mission that they can propose and convince Congress to fund. "Once SLS is into the 2020s, the launch rate should see the rocket launching at least once per year, ramping up to a projected three times per year for the eventual Mars missions. However, the latter won’t be until the 2030s. With no missions manifested past the EM-2 flight, the undesirable question of just how 'slow' a launch rate would be viable for SLS and her workforce has now been asked." Meanwhile, two more Russian rocket engines were delivered yesterday, the first time that's happened since a Russian official threatened to cut off the supply. Another shipment of three engines is expected later this year. In Europe, Arianespace and the European Space Agency signed a contract today for the Ariane 5 rocket to launch 12 more of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites on three launches. This situation really reminds me of the U.S. launch market in the 1990s, when Boeing and Lockheed Martin decided that, rather than compete with Russia and ESA for the launch market, they instead decided to rely entirely on U.S. government contracts, since those contracts didn’t really demand that they reduce their costs significantly to compete.
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NASA's Space Launch System Searches For a Mission

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  • Ooh I Got One! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @05:23PM (#47724047) Homepage Journal
    Can we use it to shoot Congress into Space? We could call it an "Emergency preparedness for giant asteroid strike" or something! Of course once IN space, they might have to stay there for a while. Giant asteroid and all that. Earth might not be habitable again for decades!
    • Congress is kinda like the weather ...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's mostly just large masses of hot air?

    • Can we use it to shoot Congress into Space?

      That sounds like a waste of a perfectly good payload. If we could use them as reaction mass, on the other hand...

    • Problems with SLS (Score:4, Informative)

      by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @06:07PM (#47724351) Homepage

      Aside from the horrific cost of the SLS (18 billion dollars) it is worth considering the fundamental flaws of it. If you use it to launch astronauts with the Orion spacecraft, you are using somewhere around a quarter of the SLS's lift capacity. If you want to use it to send things to Mars, you will need to add another stage, which is non-trivial. Overall, this seems like a giant corporate welfare program for NASA's contractors.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Space Shuttle. For decades, people complained about the high costs of operating the shuttles - with the "obvious" implication that cutting the shuttles would free-up lots of money for something better. After the shuttles stopped flying, however, two things became clear: [1] much of the cost was simply the fixed-costs of the agency (which by the screwed-up methodology politicians like, was assigned to the shuttles) and [2] each shuttle flight was actually remarkably cheap... cheaper per ton to orbit than Apo

        • You aren't doing much to rebut the fact the Space Shuttle was enormously expensive. Comparing it to other boondoggle launch systems loaded with pork isn't helping, and claiming it is all over head has multiple problems. One is the that NASA missed every launch projection, the system that was going to do 50 launches a year did a handful instead, meaning facilities costs had to be amortized over far fewer launches. Secondly, Building, fueling, transporting shuttles and building replacement shuttles was fantas

    • They definitely need it for the Denarius V spacecraft... follow-on to the Denarius IV [], only with $700billion this time.

  • by surfdaddy ( 930829 ) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @05:28PM (#47724091)
    NASA has a lot of problems and bureaucracy. While I like the IDEA of NASA, unfortunately the current REALITY is quite different. NASA is full of bureacracy, it's horribly inefficient and risk-averse. Congress is micromanaging the tasks and budget. So when we criticize NASA for no mission, part of that is because they really can't do anything with any consistency. And Congress is mostly interested in preserving pork jobs in their own districts. So we get the SLS, a huge rocket that is costing billions, without a decent mission, and a low flight rate that will make it horrendously expensive....forever... Meanwile, an efficient upstart called SpaceX is actually DOING THINGS and being BOLD, and certain senators are trying to make sure they don't succeed because SpaceX is disruptive and endangers their districts' jobs. So the US is basically fucked - we aren't leading, we aren't spending our money wisely, and NASA has become an expensive shell of its former self. And our newest hope, SpaceX, is only there because of the vision of Elon Musk... and even he is having to play politics to make sure his company isn't shut out of future NASA business. Thank our corrupt Congress, where local district money is more important than the health and leadership of the entire country.
    • NASA doesn't build much. The only reason their employees do any engineering at all is so they stay somewhat competent enough to write requirements and evaluate contracts. Most of the money and work has been, is done, and will continue to be done by contractors.
      Take Apollo. North American made the command and service module and second state, Grumman made the LM. The Saturn V first stage was built by Boeing with Rockedyne Engines. The third stage was built by Douglass, The avionics by IBM.The escape system by

  • Isn't keeping production and the money flow to various Congressmen's states the mission of the SLS anyway? Or they want an official "excuse" before getting all the pork? In that case it could be anything. It doesn't even have to be science, security would work even better. E.g searching for Nazis in the dark (sic) side of the moooon. Oh, damn, I Godwin law'd myself right at the start of the discussion...
    • Definitely pork. The real science is the unmanned missions out of JPL/CalTech while the pork is with the SLS, ISS and the ridiculous asteroid capture mission.
  • I supported NASA's "If we build it, they will come." because we needed to establish heavy lift as a foundation to do any manned or heavy robotic exploration and exploitation of space. How about a space plane for low earth orbit and a mini space station for the Moon and Mars.
    • we needed to establish heavy lift as a foundation to do any manned or heavy robotic exploration and exploitation of space.

      Why does robotic exploration have to be "heavy"? I have some friends working on the Lunar X Prize []. Their lander is the size of a carton of cigarettes, and weighs less than a kilogram. The $18B spent on the SLS would have been better spent on mechanical miniaturization, which would have many applications here on Earth, as well as in space. If you want to accomplish great things, you need to stop thinking big and start thinking small.

      • I think it would have been better spent just giving the money to SpaceX
      • I have some friends working on the Lunar X Prize []. Their lander is the size of a carton of cigarettes, and weighs less than a kilogram.

        And what does it do? Drive 500 meters and send back high-def video? Does it have a spectrometer like Spirit and Opportunity? How about a soil mechanics testing unit like Lunakhod 2?

        That's the problem, see. Real scientists like to try to figure stuff out and they need complicated instruments to do that--more than a high-def camera at least.

  • This is the down side of the great work done by the private launch outfits: they are free to NOT compete for certain missions. NASA still needs a craft for those missions so the traditional built-to-order model is still necessary but for fewer cases which could have amortized the fixed costs. Now you have either makework or are stopping and restarting the line, making the per-mission cost grow.

  • by Dereck1701 ( 1922824 ) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @10:12PM (#47725689)

    So far SLS isn't setting itself far enough apart from the boondoggle which was Constellation for my tastes. Its budget has grown from 10 Billion to, by many estimates, $41 Billion by the time it has actually launched a few prototypes. And its per launch estimates are up in the air at the moment, NASA's "$500 Million" per launch is laughable. For the money we're burning on the development of SLS alone we could launch the mass of a Naval frigate into orbit on commercial launchers. Just think of what could be done with that kind of payload capacity.

  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @11:31PM (#47726117)
    Aren't you supposed to have the problem before you have the solution?

    Nasa: Hey, we have this great launch system
    Everyone: Cool! What are you going to do with it?
    Nasa: .....

    No slight to Nasa (who've done amazing things) or to the States (ditto), but shouldn't you set a goal, and then go towards it with the right tools? (something like ....First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.)
    • This is what doomed the Shuttle. It was designed for a totally different mission profile than it was used for. It had unused polar launch capability (from Vanderburg AFB) and large cross-range ability that was not necessary at all to reach the ISS. This caused the shuttle to be heavier, with less range and more expensive than it could have been for the missions it was used for.

      I have no doubt that SLS will become the same disaster, as it is going to be designed to do "every mission" and end up doing them al

  • The SLS could have a mission: an Apollo 8 style Mars flyby in 2021: []

    That would actually fit within the current flight plan if it became EM-2. 580 days with a larger, livable service module could do it. That would be a mission worth a heavy lift vehicle and an actual date as opposed to "maybe we'll go to Mars in the 2030s" ...

  • We're going to pay how much for three times a year? This should be three times a month, ramping up to three times a week. What good is three launches a year?

    So you're looking for a mission that can be accomplished with three launches a year. How about you launch a drawing board up into space, design yourself a pair of brass balls, and make something that will make them clack more than once a month? We'll have no trouble coming up with missions for you then!
  • Why don't we bring back Big Gemeni? []

    The teal dear: essentially an American Soyouz capsule, with a recoverable "capsule" put into orbit by a fully disposable launch system. Nobody seems to know just what the hell the SLS's orbital vehicle will be, or look like - a brief perusal of the wiki articles makes it look more like a desperate attempt to keep as much of the old shuttle program infastructure and supply chain alive as possible (big suprise.) Be it porkbarreling or Spa
    • by tsotha ( 720379 )

      If we combined a rather large vehicle meant to return with a shuttle-type profile (ceramic heat shield and glide control)...

      I'm not convinced the shuttle has much to teach us beyond "don't do it this way". Powered landing has all sorts of advantages over wings, and I think that's where we should be concentrating our efforts.

  • The SLS was built to funnel money to well-connected districts, not for any mission needs....
  • Not the manned pork in things like SLS and the ISS.
  • Can anyone explain to me why we need the SLS when SpaceX is on track to provide the same functionality for a tiny fraction of the price?

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