A GAO report says that NASA has been hiding the true and very expensive cost of the SLS/Orion projects by specifically excluding the cost of any actual missions that go anywhere.


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It is nothing but pork: A GAO report says that NASA has been hiding the true and very expensive cost of the SLS/Orion projects by specifically excluding the cost of any actual missions that go anywhere.

NASA so far has put only two SLS missions on the manifest: a late-2017 test launch of an unmanned Orion into lunar space followed by a repeat of the mission in 2021 with crew onboard. NASA officials told GAO auditors it expects to have spent at least $22 billion on SLS and Orion through 2021, an estimate that does not include the cost of building the SLS launcher for the second mission. … Moreover, NASA provided no cost estimate for the more powerful SLS rocket NASA would need to mount a crewed Mars expedition the Obama administration envisions happening in the 2030s. According to NASA’s early plans, such a mission would entail multiple SLS-Orion launches.

The cost estimates NASA has offered so far “provide no information about the longer-term, life cycle costs of developing, manufacturing, and operating the launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems” the agency has identified as crucial to the eventual Mars mission, the GAO wrote in its report.

In other words, they are going to spend $22 billion to launch the thing once. Meanwhile, NASA’s commercial manned space effort is producing three different spacecraft for about $3 billion total. If anyone in Congress had any brains, picking between these two programs would be easy, a no-brainer. Sadly, they have no brains, and really aren’t making their budgetary decisions with the needs of the nation in mind.

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6 comments

  • Kelly Starks

    >… by specifically excluding the cost of any actual missions that go anywhere.

    Given no missions have been approved, it would be illegal to include unapproved expenses, for unapproved missions.

  • wodun

    This is so sad.

  • Edward

    “The reason is to avoid giving Congress sticker shock, said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

    “‘If we laid out a path directly to Mars and we laid out all the vehicles and all the testing and all the work to get there, then you end up with a fairly long period of time with a lot of funding that goes into that activity that says this program is something maybe we don’t want to go do,’ Gerstenmaier said”

    Gee, we wouldn’t want sticker shock, then Congress might cancel this expensive pork-barrel system-to-nowhere and decide to do a better, less pork-barrel system that actually has a mission that it can be designed to perform (we can only hope).

    I am shocked, *shocked* (to paraphrase “Casablanca”) that the SLS needs yet another design in order to perform the proposed (but as yet unfunded) goal of reaching Mars. One might have a mind to wonder: why build this first SLS-without-a-mission-but-with-a-huge-price-tag in the first place?

  • mivenho

    No crewed flight planned until 2021? 2021??? Elon Musk may be on Mars by then!

  • The SLS will have more payload capability than the Falcon Heavy. Congressmen could arguably agree that the SLS costs too much per kg to LEO but they could reasonably believe that we need to build it anyway if we arile eventually going to Mars. So we need to provide a technically and cost-efficient way by which the SLS Blocks 1 and 2 can be replaced in terms of capability. So, when the FH successfully launches, it needs to be made clear that it isn’t sufficient to just launch heavier satellites but can replace the capability of the SLS. We all have successfully docked in space more than 300 times without much that actually qualifies as a failure. So docking should be considered to be a low-risk option. Dock two FHs and we can probably do everything in the Earth-Moon system and a Mars flyby and maybe a crewed Deimos-Phobos mission. Dock three FHs and perhaps we could land a Mars hab & methane propellant generator and then perhaps a crewed landing. But this point needs to be made crystal clear when the FH first launches. As for any Falcon X(X) it is too far away and too uncertain to be a convincing argument for the cancellation of SLS now.

  • Kelly Starks

    > …. Congressmen could arguably agree that the SLS costs too much per kg to LEO ..

    Actually higher cost is a design goal. Otherwise they would have stayed with cheaper reusable, more Shuttle like designs. Griffin listed higher costs as a goal back to Constellation, since it generates more public support.

    >.. We all have successfully docked in space more than 300 times without much that actually qualifies as a failure…

    Neil Armstrong, might list a certain Gemini docking, and Mir folks a certain progress docking as serious exceptions to that. That was why Falcon was not allowed to attempt a docking at ISS. Dockings aren’t low risk.

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