NASA’s Space Launch System searches for a mission


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Managers of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) are searching for a mission that they can propose and convince Congress to fund.

Any honest read of this article will conclude that this very expensive rocket system is an absurd waste of money. It has no mission now, and will never get one considering the cost. Instead, NASA will spend billions to fly two test flights, both unmanned, and then the money will run out.

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14 comments

  • Chris Kirkendall

    Seems they have it backwards – shouldn’t you have a mission first, then develop the hardware for it?

  • Pzatchok

    They can take Branson into space. He’s not doing anything.

    Oh wait sorry, Branson has more rocket built and flying than they do. Maybe he can lift them.

  • Darren

    It’s backwards (mission/goal first, agreed), but I am in favour of SLS. The US should have it’s own independent exploration capability. SLS is what it is right now; Americans should embrace it. And they should also support Commercial efforts. The US can afford both.

    Many of us outside the US will never have anything close to SLS’s capability so who cares if it’s expensive? Expensive is a relative term. It’s still a fraction of the half-penny NASA gets out of the Federal Budget. Well worth it in my opinion for all of humanity.

  • Pzatchok

    We could have just dropped back and used known tested and proven designs to make two lifts or more instead of one huge lift.

    That capability is NOT needed. The ability to assemble in space is the capability we need. It would go much farther for the money spent.

    The moon launches could have easily been done with two launches instead of one. We did sort of assemble a large ship from two smaller components that could have been lifted at different times and on different vehicles.

    But no, NASA is correct, we need the ability to lift a battle ship into space all at once. It makes us look better, smarter and stronger.

  • Tom Billings

    “but I am in favour of SLS. The US should have it’s own independent exploration capability. SLS is what it is right now; ”

    US society *already*can* have its own independent exploration capability! It just isn’t under the complete control of Congress. That is the real battle line for both SLS and the Orion spacecraft. They want to be able to create more voters dependent on their power to control NASA’s budget, so those voters will sustain their power. It is the Congressional Barons controlling NASA’s funding that demand there be a program that consumes the vast majority of Human Spaceflight funding outside of ISS, while not having any programs of exploration for SLS/Orion to support.

    “Americans should embrace it. And they should also support Commercial efforts. The US can afford both. ”

    The US Congress as a whole does not think Space is important enough to expand NASA’s budget. Given the situation in the ME, it is obvious that their
    favorite target to take funds from, DoD, will not continue to be reduced for long. The US *can* afford many things, but not all things. If any one of the Caliphate revivalist groups, Salafist or Khomeinist, succeeds in setting up a nuclear-protected Caliphate, we will be into Phase 2 of the 3-phase plan they all say they want to follow, then World War 4 will get *far* more expensive

  • Edward

    Darren said: “Many of us outside the US will never have anything close to SLS’s capability so who cares if it’s expensive?”

    I do. And if your country were spending this much money on a rocket to nowhere, you would, too.

    So, if you had a rocket with SLS’s capabilities, what would you do with it?

    Although the now-discontinued Constellation program was designed to go back to the moon, it would be so much better if NASA had a mission in order for SLS and Orion to be designed to do something. Instead, it can’t take us back to the moon’s surface, which could be useful, and it can’t take us to explore Mars, and no one wants to take it out to a Near Earth Asteroid, so what is the purpose? Even the Asteroid Retrieval Mission isn’t getting much fanfare, and isn’t what SLS was designed for.

    Come to mention it, SLS isn’t designed for any mission; it just exists. Bob is right. At best, we will end up with the left over hardware as museum pieces — that no one will care to look at.

    Even if it does eventually get a mission, then it is likely that special hardware will have to be developed in order for it to carry out that mission. That is what we get when we have no mission, in order to make it generic enough to carry out any mission, it was designed too spartan to carry out any mission.

    As for other countries never having anything close to SLS’s capabilities, I wouldn’t be so sure. Europe is interested in getting its own manned space program, and they already know how to build large rockets, such as the Ariane V. India is working on their manned space program. Japan is also expecting to put someone into space around 2025.

    Iran has also announced a manned space program.

    In the UK, the company Reaction Engines is working on Skylon, which they expect to develop into a manned transport after they prove it’s capabilities with cargo transport into space.

    Once a country has a manned space program, it won’t take long before they will want to do something more, like go to the moon, as China does, or to Mars.

  • Darren

    No one, I repeat no one, outside of the US) is going come close to SLS’s capability (especially evolved to 130Mt.) in our lifetimes. The ONLY possible candidates would be Russia and perhaps China, but if they do it will be 20-30 years.

    Which is all the more reason why the US needs it. And you _can_ afford it. It’s a fraction of the half-penny NASA receives from each tax dollar. Which amounts, to the average American, to next to nothing.

    As much as I admire SpaceX, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. You need to have multiple options, which is why downselecting is a bad idea – NASA should be allowed to keep two or three providers.

    If SLS does indeed not get the required funding (and the missions for it), then perhaps a Space Act Agreement for other companies to build exploration payloads (or launchers) would be a more efficient use of money.

    But I still argue the US _can_ afford SLS and if America wants to stay at the forefront of Space they _need_ SLS. You NEED NASA and NASA needs stuff to do. People around the world admire NASA and what they have accomplished and what they are working on (both in Human exploration and Scientific exploration). They may not be perfect, they may be expensive (especially on the Human side), but the world does need them.

    So to you Americans: Be careful what you wish for. And don’t be so sensitive. Your country CAN afford it.

  • Competential

    I agree with you. SLS is better than no SLS. A really big rocket is being developed, and it really seems to be happening this time. It’s one of the best news for space flight in decades! I don’t understand how anyone who wants to see human space flight would argue differently.

    Of course it is unnecessarily expensive, corrupt and there are no plans for how to use it. Because it is a governmental program! This is nothing unique for SLS, this is the way all governments do everything they do. It is their only possible modus operadum.

    Once the SLS is tested and flight ready, and I don’t see anyone predicting that NASA will fail technically, then the politics of what to use it for will follow. That’s the backward way government does things. Mars, Moon, Asteroid missions have been canceled the last decades because there were no heavy lift. If SLS had existed in 1989 when Bush senior announced the Space Exploration Initiative, humans would be on Mars today!

    Ability comes before purpose, at least in politics. Because SLS makes human space travel possible, it will happen. Not the other way around.

  • Pzatchok

    I’m sorry but Gemini made US human space flight possible. 60 years ago.

    We do not need SLS to launch people into orbit.

  • Pzatchok

    Can, need and want are three different things.

    We do not need a new rocket.
    We do not want to spend this much money on it.
    We can spend much less and get better. Faster.

    If you want to see it happen convince some other nation to spend its treasure on it. The US is tired of carrying the rest of the world. Buy it yourself then charge us for a seat on it.

  • Vladislaw

    Darren wrote:

    “The US should have it’s own independent exploration capability. SLS is what it is right now; Americans should embrace it. And they should also support Commercial efforts. The US can afford both. ”

    We are talking about a TRANSPORTATION system, that would be like saying the U.S. should have it’s own independant automoblie production run by the government so government geologists can explore with government produced cars. Nutty….

    For over two centuries, the United States, has utilized commercial tranportation and has been handled by the commercial sector and the government is just another customer buying COTS (commercial off the shelf) turn key transportation systems. Hell you can even buy submarines commercially.

    “Many of us outside the US will never have anything close to SLS’s capability so who cares if it’s expensive? Expensive is a relative term. It’s still a fraction of the half-penny NASA gets out of the Federal Budget. Well worth it in my opinion for all of humanity.”

    And what does that tell you? There has been NO DEMAND for that capability. According to the OIG ( office of the Inspector General) the Orion capsule, JUST the capsule is going to cost 16.5 BILLION to develop. Just the development costs, for a 4 person, water landing, DISPOSABLE capsule, at only 1.1 billion per unit. That is insanity on bun.

  • Edward

    Darren said, “Which is all the more reason why the US needs it. And you _can_ afford it.”

    Please answer the question: what would we *do* with it? If we need it, then what is the need?

    We can also afford to build a 3-mile long ocean-going ship, but what would we do with it? Should it be a container ship, oil tanker, aircraft carrier, or battle ship? And where is the need?

    Building something without purpose is a waste of valuable resources, and the US gets criticized enough for using resources for productive purposes; please do not insist that we make ourselves deserving of such ridicule. We are even accused of *stealing* resources even though we pay good money for them!

    The SLS and Orion have no purpose. Whatever anyone chooses to do with it later, they would have to be adapted to do so. If we choose to go to the moon, a lander would have to be fitted under Orion, as in Apollo, or else two rockets would have to be used (so why not use multiple existing rockets?). If we choose to go to Mars, then additional living space would almost certainly be necessary in addition to a lander. If we choose to go to an asteroid, everyone would be asking us why, then complain about the wasted resources.

    There are other possible destinations, but just as with the moon, Mars, and asteroids, right now no politician (those who have the position and power to make it happen) is talking about going there.

    I have to agree with Vladislaw, below, that there is no demand. Congress demanded that SLS and Orion be built but failed to say why. “Because we can” is an excuse to climb a mountain, not build an expensive rocket that is only useful to a museum.

    I stand corrected. The museum would have to pay maintenance and storage costs, and an unused SLS would not attract the public any more than it is now.

  • Dano

    Aren’t we, the USA, stifled with burocrats that takes good leadership away to other countries.

  • Mike S

    Im old enough to remember watching Neil with my dad. I have been around long enough to see more gov waste than I care to list, having served in the Navy and the Army. Im just as big of a fan of rocket men as the next guy! Who hasn’t dreamed of being John Glenn or Neil Armstrong or John Young, and Robert Crippen? The bottom line in all this debate, is that social ills and their great big budgets are going to not only sink NASA but the US defense capability long before Buck Rodgers gets to Mars! Its just the nature of ever increasing populations and lack of common sense. I believe we have seen the last of big time “Manned” space flight. Is robotic probes Thanks to JPL and trips to ISS thanks to Spacex and Orbital, until the Great ISS goes the way of the late great Skylab! Im a pessimist, thanks to years of watching less than great American politicians ruin a steel ball, let alone OUR space program!

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