SLS faces more delays


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Delays by ESA in the construction of the service module for Orion, plus the tornado damage at the Michoud facility in Louisiana, could force NASA to delay the first unmanned test launch of the SLS rocket, presently planned for late in 2018.

NASA is also considering delaying the flight further should the agency decide to make this first unmanned test flight a manned one. They also say they will need more money if they have to put people on the first flight. I guess $43 billion and almost 15 years wasn’t enough.

By the way, it took less than four years to win World War II. From Kennedy’s speech to the Apollo 11 landing was only eight years. One wonders when we, as a nation, will finally wake up and realize that SLS is not a rocket to the Moon, but an never-ending jobs program unable to accomplish anything in space.

12 comments

  • Steve

    Meanwhile, there’s a twice used rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    Did you know about this report when you predicted additional delays to the service module, or are you especially prescient?
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/essays-and-commentaries/washington-bubble-fights-back-against-capitalism-in-space/#comment-975507

    From the Space News article: “Delays in the development of Orion’s European-built service module … are the key schedule risks for the first Space Launch System mission, agency officials said March 29. … The delivery date continues to erode.

  • Edward: As a regular reader of BtB, LocalFluff knew about the delays of the service module because I have been reporting on them now for the last year. :)

  • LocalFluff

    Edward, I’ve been saying it ever since it was decided that ESA should build the service module. Some things in this crazy space industry are easy to predict. International cooperation is always a bad idea. Scientists know no borders, but to the degree that a project requires financing from multiple governments, it will fail.

    Politics replaced engineering and business acumen when ESA got the task to build Orion’s service module. They have no experience from building any crewed spacecraft, not even a space suit. Europe can contribute in many ways, but not this one, not the life support system. It’s just prestige and envy, ESA wants to know how to do what NASA does instead of specializing and moving the frontier forward.

    And they have to replace all those “inch” things with metric écrous du France!
    You’ve heard about the Soviets copying the Concorde? They stole the blueprints, but had to make changing because their tooling used different standards for aluminium plate thickness. So their hull got heavier, so they had to change the aerodynamic shape of the wings and thus the placement of the engines and on and on. It killed a couple of party officials before it was grounded forever. Industrial espionage helps finding out what the others are doing, but it doesn’t mean that you can do it. Point here is that there are not only politically related problems with international cooperation, there are technical standards and practices that differ too. Unnecessary to add that diffuse risk to a project which is already high risk.

  • LocalFluff

    NASA tries to get away with their next big delay, like children who know they’ve done something bad but try to hide it. When they realized that they will have to postpone the première, because of some sever problem we haven’t heard about, they first gave ESA the task to build the service module, which obviously will cause delays, so that they can blame them. Then they suggest putting astronauts on the first launch, which would also be an excuse for the delay. They double hedge, maybe that’s a sign that they are in deep trouble.

  • Alex

    @LocalFLuff: Good comments. I agree with you say about international cooperation of this kind. Space has also to be made free from huge inter- multinational companies and given to people and smaller enterprises.

  • LocalFluff

    And in order to build Orion’s service module, ESA postponed financing of AIM, the asteroid orbiter for which NASA is developing the asteroid impactor DART (which maybe was a revenge for NASA having quit both ExoMars and JUICE). I think that NASA shouldn’t wait for ESA but repurpose DART, for example to impact a shadowed Lunar crater, the plume from which could be observed from Earth, Hubble and LRO. Or Bennu, Ryugu, Ceres or comet 67P where there are or soon will be orbiters. Or launch it at Brussels.

  • Commodude

    Space industry and private space enterprises are more proof that the big don’t eat the small, the fast eat the slow. NASA has long since moved from being a technology incubator to a bureaucratic quagmire. Congress needs to understand that the bureaucracy isn’t what made NASA, rather, it was an agency run by engineers without an entrenched bureaucracy that made the agency the darling of the space race.

    The zero risk model that they’ve been using needs to be abandoned. Not saying that they need to eliminate risk management, however, they need to return risk management to being a tool in the engineering box rather than the ultimate arbiter of progress.

    As long as they refuse to accept that there will be failures, they will be moving at a snail’s pace. Failures are engineering’s best training tool.

  • Diane Wilson

    The lesson has been clear for a long time, for anyone who pays attention. You do not outsource your core competencies. You only outsource a project if you can afford for it to fail.

    NASA isn’t running a zero-risk model. They simply refuse to categorize schedule delays and cost overruns as risks. Apparently, having a partner fail to deliver is also not a risk.

  • ken anthony

    Refusing to categorize schedule delays and cost overruns as risks is for them a feature, not a bug. The winning move is too just keep the funding flow until retirement.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Space has also to be made free from huge inter- multinational companies and given to people and smaller enterprises.

    I’ll echo Commodude here. There’s nothing wrong with multinational corporations in space so long as they can keep up. The small entrepreneurial startups of the past 20 years haven’t needed anything but the superiority of their work to muscle in on the legacy dinosaurs in a big way.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “Edward, I’ve been saying it ever since it was decided that ESA should build the service module.

    I was amazed at the timing. You made your comment mere hours before Space News reported a delay.

    I am amazed that NASA did not have so many delays that it had to fall back on plan B, that 1970 is a year that is part of the 1960s decade.

    LocalFluff wrote: “When they realized that they will have to postpone the première, because of some sever problem we haven’t heard about, they first gave ESA the task to build the service module, which obviously will cause delays, so that they can blame them. Then they suggest putting astronauts on the first launch, which would also be an excuse for the delay.

    Blaming an international-cooperation partner is poor form and not very cooperative. However, it would not be the first time that happened; a European company is taking the blame for the latest delay with the James Webb Space Telescope, although I would not be surprised if there are other long pole problems also holding up things.

    After reading your comments, LocalFluff, I am pondering the possibility that NASA is considering launching the first SLS with a crew in order to help ESA save face about delays. This is similar to blaming storm damage to the buildings at the same time that they announce a delay with the service module.

    A few weeks ago, I read something on a benefit of international cooperation being that despite political tensions, these last couple of years, the US and Russia continue to cooperate on the ISS. Science and engineering win out over politics, but I am not so sure that is such a good thing, because bad behavior is not properly punished.

    The service module is also a result of international cooperation on ISS. Europe used to contribute to the ISS by sending supplies on ATV, which no longer flies. Thus, ESA’s construction of the service module is a way of repaying NASA for taking on what was Europe’s part of the resupply missions, and Europe continues to be a partner in ISS. There is a disconnect from payment and service gained.

    Commodude wrote: “NASA has long since moved from being a technology incubator to a bureaucratic quagmire. Congress needs to understand that the bureaucracy isn’t what made NASA, rather, it was an agency run by engineers without an entrenched bureaucracy that made the agency the darling of the space race.

    Agreed. Congress is squandering the talents, skills, and knowledge of NASA’s scientists and engineers, because Congress does not appreciate what they have. This is yet another reason to commercialize space sooner rather than later. Companies will be encouraged to do their own R&D rather than wait for NASA to do it despite the congressionally-imposed bureaucratic-quagmire at NASA.

    NASA is not completely useless in the area of technology incubator, however. NASA did the initial research of the expandable space modules that Bigelow is developing into space habitats and laboratories.

    Commodude and Diane Wilson are both correct. Safety and failure prevention can be over emphasized, resulting in slow progress, and they can be under emphasized, resulting in lost Space Shuttles and their crews. It took several decades, but I think that US airlines, the FAA, and the NTSB found a good balance, resulting in a surprisingly good aviation safety record, these past several years.

    Dick Eagleson wrote: “The small entrepreneurial startups of the past 20 years haven’t needed anything but the superiority of their work to muscle in on the legacy dinosaurs in a big way.

    So long as the small startups start up in an environment that lets them live. In the US auto industry, it was unusual for a new company to get a start, after the many, many auto manufacturers of the early 20th century merged into the Big Three by the middle of the century. When Tesla started up, I was certain that it was going to get Deloreanned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *