Another SLS screw-up related to Europa Clipper


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Despite being required for years by a legal congressional mandate to use SLS to launch Europa Clipper to the moon of Jupiter, NASA engineers have suddenly discovered unspecified “compatibility issues” that might make use of the rocket problematic.

At an Aug. 17 meeting of NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee, Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said the Europa Clipper mission had recently discovered compatibility issues involving the Space Launch System, the vehicle preferred by Congress to launch the spacecraft. “There have been some issues that have been uncovered just recently,” she said of the use of SLS for Europa Clipper. “We are in a lot of conversations right now with human exploration and others within the agency about what kind of steps we can take going forward.”

She did not elaborate on the compatibility issues regarding SLS. Such issues, industry sources say, likely involve the environment the spacecraft would experience during launch, such as vibrations. That environment would be very different for Europa Clipper, a relatively small spacecraft encapsulated within a payload fairing, than for the Orion spacecraft that will be the payload for most SLS launches.

“We are currently working to identify and resolve potential hardware compatibility issues and will have more information once a full analysis has been conducted,” NASA spokesperson Alana Johnson said in an Aug. 18 statement to SpaceNews. “Preliminary analysis suggests that launching Clipper may require special hardware adjustments, depending on the launch vehicle.”

This is a joke. It is also absurd and disgusting. Finally, it is also par for the course for NASA and all of today’s government, at all levels. They can’t do anything competently. From the beginning Europa Clipper was mandated to fly on SLS. And yet, they didn’t design the two to be compatible?

Based on this example we should of course demand that the government and these bureaucrats be given more power and more control over our lives. Of course.

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13 comments

  • Mitch S.

    No, it’s not April 1st, but it feels like it!
    Remember a couple of years ago it was reported that there was a White house meeting and when SLS came up Trump asked “Why don’t we just use Space X?” (or something along those lines). Perfect, simple logic, the stuff we hoped to hear from Trump. But the swamp rats in congress shut him right down. Might have been the moment they decided Trump really was dangerous and had to go.

  • Chris Lopes

    “They can’t do anything competently.”

    Unfortunately, they don’t have to. SLS is not about actual space exploration. It’s about welfare for the over educated. If the damn thing never flies and ends up as yet another lawn ornament, it will have fulfilled its mission as far as the folks who funded it are concerned.

  • Henry Lee

    I read a science fiction story, probably in the 60’s, about an emergency on a spacecraft. As the crew was assembling the emergency beacon, they found that the threads on a connector were incompatible due to the fact that two pieces of the assembly were made by different contractors. Not yet diverse enough, I suppose.

  • Richard M

    I don’t know anything beyond what is published so far, but I will say that wherever the blame lies for this, I have a hard time thinking it’s on JPL’s end. They’re great engineers (and project managers) and they do their due diligence out there . . . and I tend to suspect that there was a failure by the people out at Marshall to communicate technical data about SLS to them in a timely manner.

    Still, this is just one more reason for NASA and the White House to tell Shelby and Aderholt to go get stuffed, because this mission needs to launch on a Falcon Heavy. It’s just a no brainer at this point. The risks aren’t worth it.

  • pawn

    I’m sure the rank and file were aware of this. Anyone that brings stuff like this up in a meeting is usually told to “Shut Up”. This is up there with air-starting the RS-25.

    I’m sure the right thing will be done, eventually, at a price.

  • pzatchok

    Richard M

    This is both contractors problems.
    This project has been going on for 10+ years now. You can not tell me that someplace along the way one contractor just arbitrarily said “Well lets just use all standard bolts on this job.” and NEVER in years told the other contractors.
    And you can not tell me that in years no one ever asked “I wonder if the other guys are using standard or metric bolts?”
    (bolts are just an example)

    But after years there has got to be a little communication between the contractors.

    Stuff like this is pushed back as far as possible because the contractors know all they have to do is address it to a few choice congressmen and they will get more cash to fix it.

  • LocalFluff

    Instead of SLS, they should’ve continued to launch the space shuttle as usual, but uncrewed since it was deemed unsafe. Much simpler to just automate the thing to be remotely controlled. Removing all life support systems and perhaps expanding the cargo bay to include the crewed part of it. It would’ve been much cheaper, and something would actually have been done during the last decade. Not the best imaginable option, but much much better than this. Actually, that would’ve been somewhat good, this is only bad.

    The Soviets did it in the 1980s with their one and only Buran/Enigma launch! It was optionally crewed, and was not on its one and only space flight. It was cancelled only because of Soviet becoming a failed state and NASA/Congress whoever responsible too stupid to rent it in the 1990s.

  • LocalFluff

    NASA technology is actually 34 years behind Soviet Union technology, if it launches on its now promised date! The Soviets successfully launched their SLS equivalent, Energia in 1987.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    You are so, so wrong. SLS is modern technology straight from the Space Shuttle itself.

    Oh, wait. That makes the technology 41 years behind the times. Except without the reusability. So it is more like Apollo, closer to 55 years behind. NASA is moving backward, not forward.

  • sippin_bourbon

    One of the best lines in Apollo 13.

    https://youtu.be/ry55–J4_VQ?t=18

  • Jeff Wright

    I do support SLS because of LH2 capability and Orion at least has an escape tower.

    Starship lacks both.

    I wish both programs well.

  • Jeff Wright: Download Capitalism in Space (free pdf), read it, and then tell us what you think of SLS.

    Also, do a search of Behind the Black for SLS and read some of its history. We aren’t getting much for the billions we’ve spent.

  • LocalFluff

    @Jeff Wright
    Starship IS the escape tower! If the Super Heavy would fail at launch, Starship separates from it and lands. Similar to how Dragon separates from Falcon 9, as has been tested.

    And using the dual purpose landing rockets underneath the crewed part of the spacecraft also for a launch abort, is much better than using a dedicated launch abort tower on top of it. It doesn’t only save alot of mass, it is also much safer. The launch abort tower must separate from Orion, not only during a launch abort, but at every launch!

    If the tower does not separate during a launch abort, Orion will crash hard because the parachutes cannot be deployed. If Orion lands upright, the tower will smash through Orion’s roof, and perhaps remaining fuel will explode. If the tower does not separate after a successful launch, Orion will be too massive to reach orbit and will crash down far away after a ballistic trajectory, again without being able to deploy parachutes.

    If NASA has some plan B for the case that the tower doesn’t separate, I’d like to hear about it. I can give so much that launch abort towers thus far always have separated, on Saturn V and the Atlas used for the Mercury missions and of course Soviet/Russian Soyuz. It is separated with explosive bolts that have proven very reliable. But the concept is still an extra and unnecessary lethal failure point.

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