Why did Representative Dana Rohrabacher call the Space Launch System, the SLS Titanic? Because it will sink the space program. On his website he states,
The administration’s FY’13 budget includes almost $1.9 billion for continued pursuit of the SLS Titanic, a ‘monster rocket’ based on 40-year-old Space Shuttle technology in an attempt to recapture the glory days of the Apollo Saturn V. By NASA’s internal estimates, the SLS and other components won’t be ready to launch astronauts to an asteroid until 2028, after we have spent over $130 billion towards the mission.
The three billion dollars a year (which includes approximately one billion for the Orion capsule development) allocated to the SLS by the US Congress, over the objections of NASA, is being totally wasted. This is not a partisan issue since both political parties have strong SLS supporters, in both the Senate and the House.
Key members of the Senate, who can only be called the Darth Vaders of Space, have only their own interests in mind and not the future of America. Rand Simberg exposes the culprits in his piece, “How Crony Capitalism is Killing the Space Program“.
The Space Launch System is supported primarily by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and has garnered support from others, such as Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for whom the project promises jobs in their respective states—at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and solid motor manufacturer ATK in Utah.
As NASA’s budget dwindles, the Senate Launch System will eat alive the very jewel of American pride – the American Space Program itself. The SLS is stealing desperately needed funding from other critically needed parts of the space program. For fiscal 2012, about 400 million dollars was cut from the Commercial Crew program to feed the monster rocket. As a partial result, NASA has postponed use of any Commercial Crew Transport vehicles until 2017 – five years away. Every astronaut seat to the space station on a Russian rocket costs us about 60 million dollars, so the SLS is delaying the time when US built commercial rockets and space vehicles can carry crews into orbit to visit the space station.
In addition, the very successful Mars exploration program has just been gutted by the president’s 2013 budget request. Mars mission teams that have been working together for decades may be disbanded. No further new Mars missions are currently budgeted. The Mars sample return mission would never happen, and other planetary missions would also be cut. Funding for SLS was not cut at all.
To make matters worse, the expected completion of the SLS is not until 2021. This leaves America stranded between five and nine more years, hitching rides to space on Russian rockets. Meanwhile China is expected to have their space station complete by 2020, leaving China the only nation with a permanent presence in space.
The SLS is too expensive to be used for space exploration. In effect, it has no significant mission that it can afford to be used to accomplish. In his November 2011 article in The Space Review, John Strickland shows that NASA could only afford to launch a single SLS with payload per year based on estimates of SLS launch costs and the anticipated manned spaceflight budget, when five to ten launches a year are needed. This would not allow a base on the Moon to be built within the short time before the previously landed equipment deteriorated on the lunar surface.
But the solution is right here, right now. We currently have two commercial vehicles almost finished and ready to take Americans into space – on American rockets and capsules. Both SpaceX and Boeing have viable solutions.
And more American help is on its way. Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, John Carmack, Jeff Greason and Eren Ozmen–are all brilliant entrepreneurs that have leveraged the unique American system for innovation and progress. Their hard work and dedication can and will make America a leader in space. All Congress needs to do is get out of the way.
But NASA has postponed use of our Commercial Crew Transport until 2017. That’s five years away. That means we will use up two billion dollars just paying the Russians for access to the space station.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING INSTEAD?
We only need to continue funding the Commercial Crew Development program at 800 million dollars-the original budget requested in 2011. That’s chump change compared to the billions that will be squandered on the Space Launch System. And the new commercial space companies will provide more space related jobs as launch prices come down.
The Commercial Crew program must be fully funded so that we can launch Americans and cargos to orbit on American rockets as soon as possible. This would save about 400 million dollars each year in Russian crew launch costs.
We should plan to use existing or soon to be flown rockets for near-term projects such as lunar exploration. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy can carry virtually any NASA mission payload in the next decade at about 1/10th of the cost of using the SLS.
We cannot afford to do most of the things we want to do in space without a reusable rocket. We need an open competition at the appropriate time to build a reusable heavy lift vehicle to allow us to launch large and bulky objects and vehicles which would be too hard to assemble in space from smaller sections. SpaceX is working to develop fully reusable Falcon Rocket stages that would reduce launch costs as much as 100 times.
WHAT IS THE SLS?
SLS Stands for Space Launch System – but it is disparagingly called the Senate Launch System by many. The Congress has forced the administration to include funding for the giant rocket which NASA does not need right now, to support local space jobs in Alabama, Texas, Florida, and other states. The full scale SLS would carry 130 tons to orbit by about 2022. It would use a first stage developed from parts of the space Shuttle and would also use modified Shuttle solid rocket motors.
ADVERSE EFFECT ON PROGRESS TOWARD SPACE SOLAR POWER
Making Space Solar (SSP) is utterly dependent on reducing space launch costs. Diverting huge quantities of money to the SLS not only reduces any possible funding for SSP, but would delay the development of large reusable rockets, which could result in even lower launch costs.
- International relations are being damaged by the funds cut from the Mars program, as missions in 2016 and 2018 have had all funding cut, which would have allowed us to participate in cooperative missions with the Europeans and other countries.
- There is no money to build payloads for the SLS (other than the Orion capsule, which could not be used for any practical mission by itself.) A whole set of vehicles and equipment needs to be developed and launched to do any effective exploration, and the money for this is not there due to the SLS project. – The full scale SLS (130 tons to LEO) would not be ready until about 2022 (a decade away), so payload development might not start until then.
- There is no current requirement for the SLS within ten years, as any lunar bound vehicle or equipment can be launched by existing or soon to be launched vehicles.
- Other companies such as SpaceX have offered to build a rocket equivalent to the SLS: a Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) that could lift 150 tons, to be available during the current decade and cost no more than about 2.5 billion dollars, just one year’s worth of funding for the government designed rocket.
- The SLS would be very expensive to use because:
- The SLS is an expendable rocket. The main core stage, comparable to a Saturn V first stage, with a full set of rocket engines, is expendable it falls into the ocean and is lost.
- The cost of refurbishing solid rocket boosters and casting their propellant for the SLS cannot be reduced.
The upper stages will not be recovered.
- NASA will not release estimated costs of launching an SLS or the cost per pound of launching payloads.
ADDITIONAL LINKS TO STORIES COVERING THE SLS AND SPACE TRANSPORT ISSUES
Space Policy Explained – an animated space policy series by Rand Simberg
All space politics is local
by Lou Friedman
Letter from Space Leaders to Congress Urging Support of NASA’s Use of Commercial Crew Services to the ISS
Space isn’t a jobs program by Rand Simberg, The Washington Times
Obama Administration Pushing Back on Congressionally Directed Rocket by Amy Svitak, Space News Staff Writer
The Senate’s rocket to nowhere by Rand Simberg
Preliminary NASA plan shows Evolved SLS vehicle is 21 years away by Chris Bergin
Internal NASA Studies Show Cheaper and Faster Alternatives to The Space Launch System
by Keith Cowing
TPIS: We Want SLS Competition, Not an ATK Earmark by Doug Messier
Fueling Stations vs. Monster Rocket by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
NASA Needs To Wake Up to Reality by Christopher C. Kraft
Expensive NASA rocket draws skepticism by Eric Berger
Nine Years of Space Policy Disaster by Rand Simberg