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Huntsville Strikes Back

The Huntsville Times has Huntsville’s view of the latest flap over SLS funding numbers-

Cost estimates for NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket keep soaring, but supporters say numbers now being leaked are slanted to kill the program before it starts. A Wednesday story in the Wall Street Journal said the congressionally approved Space Launch System (SLS) could cost $62 billion, nearly twice NASA’s original estimate of $35 billion.
“This is obviously another attempt by the foes of SLS to leak data to make the program look bad,” responded Steve Cook, a former NASA program manager and current Huntsville aerospace executive. “Administration spin,” agreed former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, a persistent critic of White House space policy…

Full story…


Confusion at Politico.com Over SLS Funds and Where They Go

News people don’t get it. They keep highlighting the drama senators like Shelby make over where NASA money goes, but they are forgetting that this is not as big a deal as they make it out to be.

Someone needs to tell Politico and the others that MSFC is not going to build the SLS! Sure MSFC wants to draw it up define requirements, and take it to a certain milestone, and contractors in Huntsville want to make all they can, but the reality is that it is not and never was going to be built AT MSFC. The bulk of the money goes somewhere else-the prime contractor.

From Politico.com-

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby has been one of Barack Obama’s most persistent critics, accusing the president of putting the country on a road to financial ruin with deficits as far as the eye can see.

But his demands to slash government programs tend to stop at the Alabama state line.

Here in his home state, Shelby has been pressuring the Obama administration to spend billions to build what could become the world’s biggest rocket at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville — a government project that would affect thousands of jobs, benefit a network of powerful industry interests and fill a major void at the agency after the collapse of the Bush-era Constellation initiative and the end of the space shuttle program in July.

Behind the scenes, Shelby has staked out Alabama’s turf against other states, attacking the administration for sending $340 million to Florida rather than to the Marshall agency and pushing NASA to put out bids for a key rocket engine, a move that could help an Alabama company at the expense of one in Utah. A provision he authored ended up directing $215 million to the scrapped Constellation program earlier this year, and he’s been a prolific earmarker, sending $185 million for a range of projects in Huntsville in the past few years, nearly half of which went to NASA programs.

Full story…

What does Shelby really want? Yeah, there is some money there, but a lot of it is just ego and image. Shelby needs to make it look like he goes to bat for the home team, so that the Alabama media eat it up. Business as usual.


Nasawatch: SLS Price is “Constellation on Steroids”

Citing a report from the Wall Street Journal, Nasawatch is saying the ultimate price to get anywhere with the SLS will shake things up.

From Nasawatch via the Wall Street Journal-

An Aug. 19 budget analysis prepared by NASA managers, a copy of which was obtained by The Wall Street Journal, illustrates the sticker shock associated with NASA’s drive to push U.S. manned flights beyond the orbiting international space station. … Based on priorities already adopted by Congress–then adjusting for projected inflation and accelerated development efforts–the document indicates it could cost as much as $57 billion to deploy and use the proposed systems through 2025. Upgrading launch facilities and building additional spacecraft to allow astronauts to land on the moon or an asteroid, the document indicates, could boost the total to $62.5 billion None of the scenarios envision manned flight on the new rocket before the end of 2017.”

Keith’s Note: Numbers like this are not supposed to get out – so the White House, NASA, and everyone else in that closed loop can’t be happy about this. Now that Congress has to confront the public reality of what NASA says their SLS-based architecture will cost, food fights are certain to follow.

This is just Constellation on Steroids – without all that back to the Moon stuff. I wonder what the new (higher) number would be if the costs of actually developing payloads and then supporting them across a serious, multi-year program of exploration were included? I would imagine that the end costs would not be much different than Constellation (except higher, of course) – and that the money to support such a program would be as equally an unrealistic fantasy as were the promised funds for Constellation…

Full story…

Note: You can get to the WSJ story, but it’s not a simple link. Read the Nasawatch entry for how to get to it.

See also “How expensive is too expensive for NASA’s exploration plans?” at Spacepolitics.com.


JWST Cost Overruns vs SLS Cost Overruns at Orlando Sentinel

Mike Thomas at the Orlando Sentinel doesn’t think the SLS will ever fly. There will be delays and cost inflation, as usual. Since this is also true for JWST, he argues “in for a billion, in for a zillion” on the telescope and just cancel the rocket.

From The Orlando Sentinel-

A House spending committee wants to whack NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

It is the planned super-duper replacement for Hubble, which is an orbiting toilet-paper tube by comparison.

Astronomers say the Webb scope could pick up light waves from the very first stars. It would take us back 13.7 billion years — or 6,000 years if you’re in the Republican presidential primary — to when it all began.

So what are a few measly cost overruns compared with that?

We have a big decision to make: We can either go billions over budget on mismanaged science projects, or we can go billions over budget on even more mismanaged manned-spaceflight programs.

But we no longer can go billions over budget on both.

And so I choose the mismanaged science projects.

James Webb certainly qualifies. In typical fashion, NASA sold it by underestimating the cost and the launch date.

NASA understands that after dollars start flowing to aerospace contractors and congressional constituents, nobody will pull the plug. There may be shrill Government Accountability Office reports and perfunctory political showboating about costs, but the bucks must go on.

This is how we ended up with a space shuttle that cost $1.5 billion per launch…

Full story…


Alabama Vs Florida Food Fight Over SLS Funds

Congresscritters behaving badly? Say it ain’t so!

From Nasawatch-

Florida senators dispute Sen. Richard Shelby’s criticism of spending at Kennedy Space Center, Huntsville Times

“Florida’s senators share the frustration. So do Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and more than a few House representatives. They’ve all pressed NASA and the White House this year to get started on SLS. But the Shelby/Sessions letter went further and accused NASA of wrongly shifting some $341 million to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for improvements that they say should go to SLS. Those improvements at Kennedy are only “tangentially” related to the heavy-lift rocket project, according to the Alabama senators.

Nasawatch entry and comments..


Griffin Goes on the Offensive

Former NASA Admin Mike Griffin has been on the offensive lately, talking up official stalling on the SLS and MPCV. Is it true? It does seem to be the case. No one has been accusing the current admin about being aggressive about human spaceflight lately, that’s for sure. Even with an SLS approved on paper, the admin seems to be in retreat mode.

From Spacepolitics-

At an event Friday in Huntsville, former NASA administrator Mike Griffinaccused the current administration of doing “everything it could to oppose human spaceflight”. That statement was not a one-time shot against the Obama Administration: in an op-ed in the current issue of Space Newshe goes into great detail regarding his accusation that the administration opposes human spaceflight. That is the theme of his piece: that the administration is doing everything it can to block NASA’s human space exploration efforts, specifically the Space Launch System (SLS) launcher and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

And how is the administration doing that? Griffin makes a number of claims, ranging from the 2007 white paper from the Obama campaign that proposed delaying Constellation by five years and the White House’s original budget proposal from February 2010 that sought to completely kill Constellation to more recent efforts. He specifically cites leaking a cost estimate that pegged the cost of SLS and MPCV at $38 billion through 2021 as well as the cost estimate itself, which he says are based on “unrealistic schedule estimates, overly taxed budget allocations and suboptimal development sequencing and with NASA overhead being disproportionally charged to the exploration budget line — in other words, a mismanaged program.” Griffin argues that a “more realistic funding profile”, such as what was included in the NASA authorization act (which only goes through fiscal year 2013), could fund SLS at $1.6 billion a year and enable a 70-ton SLS to fly by 2017 and a 130-ton (“deep-space-capable”, as he describes it) SLS by 2020, allowing for annual flights thereafter. Griffin does not discuss the source of his cost estimates in his op-ed…

Full story…

This site has reported many times in the past year or so about Congress’s foot-dragging on human spaceflight. It’s not just the current NASA admin, even though it seems to be the focus at this point. The admin clearly does not appear to be serious about it, but when Congress dithered month after month last year while layoffs happened, Congress was just as screwed up.

Put some oil or angry terrorists in orbit, and you will see attitudes change real fast. Unfortunately, this is reality. Official Washington has never really been serious about human spaceflight unless there was a threat to think about as well.


Ares 1, We Miss You

This idea won’t be taken seriously, but it shows how frustrating things have become already regarding the SLS. Congress dragged out passing the NASA Bill, then sat on the money, then passed it on to NASA. Now NASA appears to be half-interested and waiting for the SLS to go away…

From The Huntsville Times-

As NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket struggles to get off the drawing board, a national space analyst says the answer to moving into deep space may be bringing back Ares I, the rocket NASA just canceled.

Dr. Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, raised the Ares option last week as one way out of political and financial thicket that has enmeshed the Space Launch System (SLS), which is the formal name for the heavy-lift rocket project…

Full story…

Nasawatch Entry and Comments… (Check out the Youtube video someone linked to, it’s funny)

OK, maybe NASA is really interested in getting the SLS going. It just depends on who you are talking about. There does seem to be something missing. There is not a sense of urgency or importance attached to the SLS, which is likely NASA’s last big in-house rocket. Instead, there is either no interest “We are studying it” or this talk of affordability combined with budget cuts makes plans so conservative, you wonder what the point of one flight every 5 years really is. This is a round-about way of making it irrelevant.


Senators Asking Where the SLS Report Is

From The Huntsville Times-

Two Alabama senators plus senators from other states with NASA facilities are again pushing the space agency to move forward with a new heavy-lift rocket. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both of Alabama, David Vitter of Louisiana and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi sent a letter to President Barack Obama Aug. 15 urging movement. Read the letter below.

“We write today to request that the administration immediately provide the Section 309 report to Congress, and that the Office of Management and Budget immediately release its hold and approve the program,” the letter said.

The Section 309 report was a congressional requirement for NASA to inform it within 90 days of the signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 what heavy-lift rocket plan NASA would use to build the agency’s next big rocket. That report is now nearly 200 days late, the letter said.

Congress and the White House compromised last year on a space plan that involved commercial companies developing cargo and astronaut flights to the space station while NASA worked on a new crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket for deep space flights. The senators say all other parts of the compromise are under way except the heavy-lift rocket, which is being studied by budget experts including OMB.

The senators believe money is being diverted from heavy-lift to other NASA spending priorities and that the White House “has no intention” of following the law on spending…

Full story…

Nasawatch entry and comments…

More detail on Spacepolitics.com-

…That letter is also critical of elements of NASA’s 2011 operating plan, which includes spending money allocated for SLS on facility work at the Kennedy Space Center that the senators believe should not be charged exclusively to SLS. “The misallocation of SLS funds and the lack of synchronization between rocket and spacecraft development at NASA seem to suggest that this Administration has no intention of properly using appropriated funds,” the letter concludes, asking for NASA to resubmit an operating plan “to ensure that the funds appropriated for SLS are used to develop the 130 metric ton heavy lift vehicle required in both the authorization and appropriations acts.”

Full story…


NASA Merges Space Operations, Exploration

From Aviationweek-

William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, will head a new mission directorate at the U.S. space agency that combines Space Operations and Exploration Systems.

To be called the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEO), the new organization at NASA headquarters in Washington will manage U.S. operations on the International Space Station (ISS) and development of capabilities for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

Its creation reflects the end of the space shuttle program and shifts in human-exploration policy under the Obama administration away from government development toward more commercial activity.

Doug Cooke, the Exploration Systems associate administrator, has said he will retire once NASA chooses a reference design and procurement strategy for the heavy-lift Space Launch Systems (SLS) Congress has ordered as a backstop to the administration approach, a decision Administrator Charles Bolden has said probably will be made this month…

Full story…


SLS: A Rarely Flown Rocket to Nowhere?

Nasawatch asks, “SLS: A Rarely Flown Rocket to Nowhere?”

(Quoting the Orlando Sentinel)

“The rocket and capsule that NASA is proposing to return astronauts to the moon would fly just twice in the next 10 years and cost as much as $38 billion, according to internal NASA documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. The money would pay for a new heavy-lift rocket and Apollo-like crew capsule that eventually could take astronauts to the moon and beyond. But it would not be enough to pay for a lunar landing — or for more than one manned test flight, in 2021. That timeline and price tag could pose serious problems for supporters of the new spacecraft, which is being built from recycled parts of the shuttle and the now-defunct Constellation moon program…

Full story…