During the Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium is being held this week in Huntsville, discussion has naturally turned to the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy lift booster being designed in the same city where von Braun and his team created the massive Saturn V.
Two very different views of SLS have emerged during the symposium. Its detractors say it is a massive boondoggle that will be squeezed out of existence by its own massive costs, low flight rate and tight government budgets. Meanwhile, the companies build the SLS say the booster’s immense launch capacity is the key to deep space exploration and could create a demand for additional missions that would increase flights rates and lower unit costs.
In the video above, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Dan Dumbacher lays out the nominal launch schedule for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS). There will be an unmanned test in 2017, followed by a test with a crew aboard four years later. SLS will then be launched every other year (2023, 2025, etc.). Dumbacher says that NASA is examining whether the system could be launched once a year.
In a separate interview with the Houston Chronicle, former NASA manned space flight director Chris Kraft says that SLS will never become a reliable human-rated booster even if the space agency can manage one launch per year.
Kraft also says that the costs of building and operating SLS, along with the low flight rate, will prevent NASA from actually doing anything in deep space.
Aviation Week takes a closer look at Deputy Administrator Lori Garver’s impending Sept. 6 departure from NASA. Frank Morring, Jr. notes that Garver has been the major driver behind the agency’s controversial push for commercial space activities as well as the plan to capture an asteroid and have astronauts visit it. He also notes the following:
Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s No. 3 manager and top-ranking civil servant, is a likely possibility to fill Garver’s post on an acting basis until the White House can nominate another political appointee….
Garver’s departure will come on the heels of Elizabeth Robinson, the agency’s chief financial officer, who has been named under secretary of energy. Robinson and Garver were staunch allies in the often-heated management policy debates that pitted them against more traditional NASA managers, including Administrator Charles Bolden.
The announcement of Garver’s departure has already caused consternation among her supporters in the NewSpace community, who are losing their highest ranked advocate at the space agency at a critical time when Congress and the White House are at loggerheads over the space agency’s funding and direction.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has achieved a major milestone in its effort to build the nation’s next heavy-lift launch vehicle by successfully completing the Space Launch System (SLS) preliminary design review.
BREMEN, Germany (OHB AG PR) — MT Aerospace AG, part of the European space and technology group OHB AG, signed an authorization to proceed with The Boeing Company for the development and production of large tank components for the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) core stage. Boeing is a prime contractor for the SLS, which is scheduled for first launch in 2017.
Stennis Space Center, MS (NASA PR) — Before NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) flies to space on its inaugural mission in 2017, it will fly in place at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
The B-2 Test Stand at Stennis, originally built to test Saturn rocket stages that propelled humans to the moon, is being completely renovated to test the SLS core stage in late 2016 and early 2017. The SLS stage, with four RS-25 rocket engines, will be installed on the stand for propellant fill and drain testing and two hot fire tests.
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, MS (NASA PR) — Engineers developing NASA’s next-generation rocket closed one chapter of testing with the completion of a J-2X engine test series on the A-2 test stand at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and will begin a new chapter of full motion testing on test stand A-1.
The J-2X will drive the second stage of the 143-ton (130-metric ton) heavy-lift version of the Space Launch System (SLS). The rocket will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration and send humans in NASA’s Orion spacecraft into deep space.
NASA will partner with private organizations seeking to catalog and mine asteroids as the space agency undertakes an ambitious effort to retrieve one of these bodies and send astronauts to explore it, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told planetary scientists on Monday.
“When Planetary Resources was founded a few month ago and following on that Deep Space Industries, I could not have been happier,” Garver said, referring to two asteroid mining companies announced last year. “It’s proving our focus of attention on areas where there is not just U.S. government interest.”
Media reports are indicating that President Barack Obama’s budget will propose that NASA spend $105 million next year to begin a program to capture an asteroid and bring it back to a Lagrangian point near Earth where astronauts would be able to visit it using the Orion spacecraft beginning in 2021.
NASA will see a $1.3 billion budget cut this year under a stopgap spending bill the U.S. Congress approved March 21.
After absorbing across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, NASA stands to receive $16.5 billion for 2013 — an amount 7.3 percent below the $17.8 billion the agency has been held to since 2011 under a series of short-term spending resolutions Congress has been passing in lieu of annual appropriations bills….
By Rep. Dana Rohrabacher Vice Chairman, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Although I strongly agree with much of the Committee’s Views and Estimates, there is one specific area on which I wish to state a different view, as I have done for the past few years.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
We have not yet received a budget request from the President for Fiscal Year 2014, and the previous request did not contain any real budget planning for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Marcia Smith over at Space Policy Online reports that the GOP has introduced a measure in the House that would provide some relief for NASA on funding commercial crew and the Space Launch System despite the sequestration of funds that began last week.
The continuing resolution bill would provide full funding for the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The government is now operating under a continuing resolution that ends on March 27. If no agreement is reached by the deadline, the federal government would shut down.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., for a $23.3 million contract to develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for future advanced boosters for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS).
Aerojet is one of four companies contracted under a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for a future version of the SLS heavy-lift rocket.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded grants to nine universities for advanced development activities for the nation’s next heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).
The agency is providing approximately $2.25 million that will be shared by all the proposals under this NASA Research Announcement to seek innovative and affordable solutions to evolve the launch vehicle from its initial lift capability to a larger, future version of the rocket, which will carry humans farther into deep space than ever before. NASA sought proposals in a variety of areas, including concept development, trades and analyses, propulsion, structures, materials, manufacturing, avionics and software.
With America (or, at least its esteemed Congress, gentlemen engineers all) determined to build the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) regardless of the cost to the national treasury or the damage done to far more pressing priorities (like getting our astronauts back into orbit on U.S. vehicles), the Russians have begun dusting off old proposals for super boosters of their own.
In this case, the Russian need to emulate the Americans is somewhat less blatant than the follow-the-leader cloning process that resulted Soviet Union’s ill-fated, single flight Buran space shuttle of the 1980’s. However, it does involves much of the same launch vehicle hardware, which should set off plenty of alarm bells right there.
Yes, the Soviet Empire may have died and, with it, the mighty space program that had once sent shudders of fear through the West. But, the individual initiatives of that era continue to live on, although in somewhat altered states and, unfortunately, possessing many of the same problems.