NASA and Boeing finalize contract to build the SLS rocket

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NASA and Boeing today signed a $2.8 billion contract for Boeing to build the core stage of the SLS rocket

Scheduled for its initial test flight in 2017, the SLS is designed to be flexible and evolvable to meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs. The initial flight-test configuration will provide a 77-ton capacity, and the final evolved two-stage configuration will provide a lift capability of more than 143 tons.

It would be nice for the U.S. to have this heavy-lift rocket, but I fully expect the funds to run out immediately after it makes its inaugural flight, despite the wonderful pork it provides to so many Congressional districts. It just costs too much per launch.


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  • geoffc

    $2.8 billion? That will what? Employ them for 2 years, producing nothing to show for it? To get something off the factory floor is another 20 billion.

  • DK Williams

    Obama has been ambivalent towards the space program, at best. Congress is mainly interested in the pork it brings. NASA wants whatever is most expensive. Contractors are happy to oblige. No wonder Elon Musk is eating their lunch.

  • wodun

    $2.8b is a lot of Falcon 9 launches.

  • Kelly Starks

    Congress has actually turned down billions in Obama offered pork to keep SLS (and the industrial base) going. Close that, and you likely lose the CCDev bidders with the industrial base.

    And its the voters demanding the pork. Don’t point fingers are the congress critters doing what we demand of them. Its like blaming a whore for doing impure things with you. ;)

    As for the NewSpace SLS fantasy that “..the funds to run out immediately after it makes its inaugural flight..” were all to big to be believing fairytales.

  • Pzatchok

    I only question the need for this ship.

    I know that desire is the only limiting factor is ship size. With enough desire enough money will be found.

    But do we truly need a heavy lift vehicle or could we do the same job with smaller ships and better construction techniques?

    A better lighter space suit would do a heck of a lot for space construction. Right now our suits are very limited because of the inefficient and bulky construction of the gloves. The life support systems need to be trimmed down and lightened up and the propulsion systems need to be more modular.
    In fact the whole of the suit needs to be more modular and more user maintainable.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Congress has actually turned down billions in Obama offered pork to keep SLS (and the industrial base) going.

    The first part of this is complete fiction. SLS is the pork and it was demanded by Congress, not offered by Obama. As for the “industrial base” it’s the industrial base for the SpaceShuttle. Much of it it already gone and the rest needs to go. It can’t build anything that is either economical or useful. All it can build is the SLS, which is neither.

    Close that, and you likely lose the CCDev bidders with the industrial base.

    You might have a point where Sierra Nevada is concerned as they’re contracting with Michoud to build Dreamchaser, but there are other potential contractors out there. SpaceX, on the other hand, is it’s own industrial base.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Sure is. At the prices NASA is currently paying for CRS runs to ISS, it’s 21 missions.

  • David M. Cook

    Actually, for on-orbit assembly & maintenance you really need a pod, like the ones in 2001. I know, there are drawbacks (“I’m sorry Dave, I can’t open the pod bay doors…”), but think of the advantages. Instant access to space without the need to pre-breathe or suit up, no real limit on the time spent on an EVA, the ability of the crew to rest and repast during the EVA, and if you put a pair of “glove-box” arms on the front, where the large flat window is, then the problem of dexterity is solved. Just gotta make sure there’s a spare helmet in there!

  • Orion314

    yeah, and no one named HAL as your co-worker ;)

  • Pzatchok

    The problem with pods of any type is the large size.

    They just can’t get to and do all the work needed.

    We need to remove the need to pre breath pure O2 before using a space suit. We need a way to raise its internal pressure up to normal ranges so the astronaut doesn’t get the bends.

    More of the suit could be hard construction. Make the soft points cheap and disposable. Maintainable and replaceable inside a space habitat.

    That is one of the problems with so much of our space equipment now. Its just not serviceable on location. We can’t bring it inside a dedicated work area and fix it. We need a ‘dirty’ room in outer space.

  • Kelly Starks

    >>Congress has actually turned down billions in Obama offered pork to keep SLS (and the industrial base) going.

    > The first part of this is complete fiction. …

    No Obama offered a couple billion to Wolf and Nelsons districts to sweeten the deal, tied to killing SLS and the remaining NASA BEO manned capabilities.

    >..As for the “industrial base” it’s the industrial base for the SpaceShuttle. ..

    Its the industrial base for all manned and most unmanned systems the US ever had.

    >> Close that, and you likely lose the CCDev bidders with the industrial base.

    > You might have a point where Sierra Nevada is concerned as they’re contracting with Michoud to build Dreamchaser, but there are other potential contractors out there.

    And draper labs for aero, and Hamilton Sunstrand (now UTAS) for life support and thermal control. Ands a long list of other supplier’s who are likely to close and maned space related shop if Congress/NASA explicitly end future US manned plans. They aren’t in great economic shape now (which is why at best you usually only have one surviving supplier now) and sign of the market closing for a years to a decade…. I doubt the stock holders would want to keep funding them, and the ageing staffs might figure its time to retire rather then retrain. Their are related businesses for submarines etc… but we could well be pushing our space industry into unraveling the way Russia did theirs.

  • Kelly Starks

    CBO numbers (in the reports I’ve forwarded URLs to here several times) are that SpaceX flights to ISS cost NASA over $400M each. so $2.8b comes to 6-7 flights, not 21.

  • Kelly Starks

    > I only question the need for this ship…

    Its a dumb design to go with. Expensive, and inflexible. But Griffin sold folks on big flash expendable rockets, as the way to go (being more expensive and flash infrequent flight being expected to up voter support), and with no presidential leadership for a new project of this scale for future BEO missions. Congress figured if they didn’t salvage an keep going half of Constellation, NASA and the US would pretty much be closing the doors for a generation in space. Its a disgusting pricy life preserver, but drowning folks can’t get to choosey..

  • Dick Eagleson

    I have no idea what CBO reports you mean, but I imagine that you have, as usual, misinterpreted them, assuming they even exist. I don’t intend to go looking for possibly mythical evidence on your backtrail of comments at this site. Instead I will simply assume that if you can’t supply a useful link in a current comment, that no such evidence exists. Your track record of outrageous prevarications on this site certainly entitle you to no benefit of any doubt.

    To set the record straight, I am including a link to an audit report about the COTS/CRS program compiled by the NASA Office of the Inspector General. It reports, among other thinngs, that, as I stated above, the cost to NASA of SpaceX CRS missions is $133.3 million each. The OIG got this number the same way I did, by dividing the total SpaceX CRS contract price by the number of missions.

  • Dick Eagleson

    No Obama offered a couple billion to Wolf and Nelsons districts to sweeten the deal, tied to killing SLS and the remaining NASA BEO manned capabilities.

    I suppose it would be too much to expect some evidence other than your demonstrably worthless word on this matter? Your propensity to make stuff up is duly noted.

    Its the industrial base for all manned and most unmanned systems the US ever had.

    The U.S. had quite an industrial base for designing and fabricating fabric-skinned biplanes at one time too. Does anyone regret the loss of that industrial base? NewSpace is developing its own industrial base. It’s pretty considerable already and in a few more year’s time will rival that of the space-related divisions of the legacy aerospace companies. With the notable exception of deep space unmanned probes – a relative sideshow – this vaunted “industrial base” has produced little but failure since Apollo. It needs to either start producing, or go.

  • Dick Eagleson

    As a “life preserver” for manned BEO spaceflight, SLS is proving be filled with concrete, not kapok.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I think 2001-style pods would be too massive. I’ve often wondered why some variation on 1-atmosphere deep sea diving suits haven’t been developed for space applications. These are hard-shell, constant-volume designs. Some even have no legs and resemble mini-2001-style pods. Oceaneering, one of the leading manufacturers of such suits, got a NASA contract in 2009, but I’ve seen no evidence that it has resulted in any deliverables. Maybe someone can investigate whether or not it fell victim to intervening budget cuts/raids or whether it was just too severe a case of not-invented-here for NASA’s hidebound bureaucracy to stomach.

  • In many ways the Russian Orlan spacesuit includes many of these features in the suit itself. The main body is a hard shell, with only the arms and legs flexible. You climb into it like a pod, and your partner closes the hatch for you (located on the back of the suit).

    Having arms and legs is necessary for doing spacewalks. Humans need a way to maneuver themselves, and making a complex set of thrusters on a pod would be expensive, complex, prone to failure, and cause environmental problems in operation close to the space station. Instead, the astronaut uses his arms and feet. Simple and far cheaper to build then any 2001-style pod.

  • Kelly Starks

    Your NASA 2012 report ”” report only included $3.5 billion in launch fees to Orbital and SpaceX in the COTS/CRS program, not the rest of the COTS/CRS costs for the flights including the R&D and overhead. The full COTS/CRS program costs which as Page 1 of

    shows was projected at $6.4B through 2016. Your $3.5B in fixed-price contracts for flights through 2016 might not all be paid for by 2016 (or be from a different account) but should fit in that $6.4B. SpaceX got more money for development and other upfront costs from the $5.4 as I outlined in the posting I mentioned that you didn’t want to look up. (See below)

    In May 2011 Congress issued a report listing $850 million (more then the total dev cost of both Falcons and
    Dragon, according to SpaceX)
    congressional document
    “Commercial Cargo Will Cost More Than Shuttle-Delivered Cargo Says Congressional Document”

    SpaceX got
    $278 million for three demonstration flights of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon capsule,
    $258 million in milestone payments for completing 18 of 22 COTS milestones. Please see Appendix 1 for SpaceX’s schedule milestone chart.
    $185.6 million for milestones tied to four CRS missions
    $128 million toward additional risk reduction‖ milestones
    Or SpaceX had receaved $850 for COTS as of May 11 (NASA only spent $1.25B in total COTS!!)
    CCDev 2 awards
    $75 million as part of to develop a revolutionary launch escape system and SuperDraco engine ( ;
    Now SpaceX’s press release 5-14-12 ( on
    page 3 states “..To date, SpaceX has received $381 million for completing 37 out of 40 milestones..” Which is
    another $132 million since the above congressional report said them were paid $258m for 18 of 20 COTS
    milesstones. I.E. about $132m for the Dragon to ISS test flights.
    said “paid SpaceX $381 million in an agreement to help pay for the design, development, and testing of the
    Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.. SpaceX has spent $1.2 billion to date, including public and
    private capital.”
    They seem to be just refering to the COTS milestone payments, not all the other fees / Awards paid to spaceX for
    the development adn testing of the Falcon’s & Dragon’s, but whats interesting is the $1.2B number.
    Totaling up the above, SpaceX has received $1.057B total from NASA as of May 2012
    SpaceX money confusion — HELP!
    1 of 2 6/30/12 11:26 AM
    Musk said total dev costs for Falcon and dragon were $800 M and the SpaceFlight now article says “SpaceX has
    spent $1.2 billion to date”, and Musks quoted as having invested $100m of his money in SpaceX. That implies
    hes only gotten about a $100M in investor money?
    They might actually have gotten a lot less then that given they must have gotten some money in advance fees
    from the launch contracts they got (Bellow) which I can’t sort out.
    So is this all SpaceX has gotten from the feds? Itcertainly doesn’t sound commercial!
    Am I missing something.

  • Kelly Starks

    Running in place vrs shutting it all down and forgetting BEO. Disgusting choices on this menu..

    As I was quoted in the Augustine report “As an American, having NASA field a retro-reenactment of the Apollo program to get back to the moon a half-century after we sent people there the first time is humiliating.”

    ( page 22)

    But that was 5 years ago – things look worse now.

  • Dick Eagleson

    If you want to know what SpaceX received from NASA, in total, for its COTS efforts, the number is $396 million. That was money to cover development activities specifically related to COTS. That is R&D work and “overhead.” For this money, NASA got the Falcon 9 launcher and the Dragon cargo vehicle. As also noted elsewhere, SpaceX kicked in roughly $450 million of its own to this effort for a total of about $850 million. This $396 million number, as I noted in a previous comment, is in an audit report put out a year ago by the NASA Office of the Inspector General. That was for COTS. For CRS, SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract to do 12 missions of which it has already accomplished three. So, in total, NASA will have paid SpaceX roughly $2 billion for its COTS and CRS work by the end of 2016. As noted, that’s hardly all NASA will be paying SpaceX over this interval, but the rest will be for CCDev.

    It’s worth noting that, since SpaceX’s CRS missions are over $100 million apiece cheaper than Orbital’s, that you could easily make the case that NASA has already recovered over three-quarters of that $396 million it paid SpaceX for COTS-related development efforts and that, as of SpaceX’s next CRS mission later this summer, that NASA will be into positive ROI territory. The next eight SpaceX CRS missions will save NASA over $800 million compared to using the next cheapest supplier. That’s a 200% ROI by the end of just the first CRS contract. Not too shabby I’d say.

    Unfortunately, most of the links in your comment are broken, but one that isn’t – and perhaps that’s why you used it twice – is to a document that announces up-front it has something to do with the:


    It’s not really clear what this document is, though it is clear that it is three years old. No author is identified. A hearing date and time are referenced. Four people are listed as witnesses, including Gynne Shotwell from SpaceX and Frank Culbertson from Orbital Sciences. But none of the witness testimony, whatever it may have been, is contained in this document. Given the general tone of the thing, my best guess is that this is a submission for the record by some member of the committee who was opposed to the COTS program.

    I conclude this at least in part because there is a completely dishonest comparison of alleged costs per pound to LEO for the Shuttle versus commercial resupply. It’s based on a supposedly normative Shuttle payload of about 17.5 tons. There were many Shuttle missions that didn’t carry anywhere near this much up-mass. But leaving that aside, the missions on which the Shuttle did carry this much were missions aimed at incremental construction of the ISS. On these missions, the vast majority of the payload up-mass was hab modules or other major structural elements of ISS. The CRS program was set up to provide resupply for a completed ISS, not to provide transport for station components. Even so, the Dragon is supposed to carry up the Bigelow BEAM module for ISS next year. But a fair comparison of Shuttle construction material missions should be made to the Falcon Heavy, not the Falcon 9/Dragon combo. Even allowing for the farcically low total mission costs assumed for the Shutle in this document, the Shuttle still prices out at over $21,000 per pound. The Falcon Heavy will lift over twice the Shuttle’s rated maximum (which it never actually carried up by the way) and do it for a bit over $1,600 per pound.

    Now, back to your other arguments based on this document of dubious provenance.

    Your alleged $6.4 billion number seems to be based on adding the two total figures given in the grid on page 1. But 5.2 of those alleged 6.4 billions aren’t actual expenditures but someone’s projections of supposed commercial cargo expenditures from 2011 through 2016. No source or methodology for these numbers is given. SpaceX and Orbital have CRS contracts that run through 2016. They total 3.5 billion. The anonymous author of this document provides no basis for his considerably larger “projections.”

    In addition to no sourcing for most of the numbers in the document, the labeling of some of the numbers is unclear to say the least. What, exactly, is “Cargo Augmentation” that supposedly contributed $288 million in costs to the commercial cargo program in 2011? Then there’s a footnote 11 that states that $466 million of the $1.254 billion total in one of the 2011 boxes of the upper grid is “contained in the figures below.” The only figure for 2011 in the lower grid is $516.5 million. So by adding the totals of these two grids together, you’ve overstated things by $466 billion. Given that the rest of the numbers in the lower grid are mythical anyway, that’s probably not too important in the overall scheme of things.

    In fairness, I also question some numbers from the upper grid that seem too low. I’m certain, for instance, that COTS expenditures in 2010 were probably greater than $39 million and much greater than $12 million in 2011.

    Your other numbers are equally dubious. I don’t know how much SpaceX got paid specifically for COTS demo flights, but there were only two, not three. There were originally planned to be three, but the second and third were combined into a single mission which was successful. In any event, the money paid for these demo flights were part of SpaceX’s milestone payments so I believe adding your $278 million and $258 million numbers is double counting. That seems true also of the $185.6 million and $128 million numbers you cite. These are all said to be subtotals of SpaceX’s milestone payments. More double counting.

    The $1.2 billion number you seem to make so much of later is a number that, by May 2012 when the article that contains it was published, was probably true for total public and private expenditure by SpaceX, but it was not all for COTS/CRS. SpaceX was well along with CCDev by that time too. As a combined number for COTS and CCDev by that point in time it looks about right. Certainly the $75 million number you cited separately further up in your comment is explicitly stated to be for SuperDraco’s and a launch escape system for a crewed vehicle. That’s CCDev, not COTS/CRS.

    So to sum up: Your cited document is, first of all, of unknown provenance, obviously written by someone with an axe to grind about COTS/CRS – probably a Congressperson or a staffer – and is not from the Congressional Budget Office. Second, the numbers in it are demonstrably wrong and/or mythical. Third, you’ve double counted some of them anyway, as you have also done for numbers you allege to have gotten from other sources, links to which do not work.

    I gather that it has become an article of religious faith to you that SpaceX is somehow getting huge quantities of government money in addition to what has been publicly acknowledged repeatedly by both NASA and SpaceX. They are not. You continue to waste everyone’s time – not least, your own – offering risible nonsense as alleged evidence. You suffer from a number of other delusions about SpaceX’s alleged financial fragility. These are hallucinations, Kelly. Pay no attention to the voices in your head. They’re not real.

  • Kelly Starks

    Sorry that SpaceX pulled down their web sites, most of the other URLs are still good, including the report from the congressional subcommittee in charge of NASA and related agencies – which you dismissed as “…my best guess is that this is a submission for the record by some member of the committee who was opposed to the COTS program…..I conclude this at least in part because there is a completely dishonest comparison of alleged costs per pound to LEO for the Shuttle versus commercial resupply…” When you start arguing basic budget numbers with the committee that writes them (and going toward personal insults) the discussions getting ridiculous, so I’m dropping out of it.

    I remember at the time the report came out, this was a common reaction of Space advocates and Musk, though Orbital sciences said it shouldn’t have surprised anyone and didn’t disagree with it.

    as to “….the Shuttle still prices out at over $21,000 per pound. The Falcon Heavy will lift over twice the Shuttle’s rated maximum (which it never actually carried up by the way) and do it for a bit over $1,600 per pound…” Obviously that wouldn’t be to the ISS in a dragon etc, and its not clear what numbers your using or how it relates?

  • Dick Eagleson

    You seem to think this document is a “report” by the subcommittee. There is no indication anywhere in the document that it is an official publication authorized by the entire committee or even a majority of its members. The complete lack of any authorship data is indicative that this is the work of some member or staffer with an axe to grind. Individual members can put anything they want into the Congressional Record. Just because something has been published by a member of Congress hardly makes it Holy Writ. You are conveniently credulous about this risible document because you have an emotional commitment to the viewpoint it clumsily and mendaciously attempts to propound. I say garbage in, garbage out. Official reports from subcommittees and committees are usually signed by the members who chair said subcommittees or committees and often by the entire membership. There is no one’s name on this thing except, as previously noted, for four witnesses at a hearing session which is never again referenced and from which not a word of testimony is quoted.

    In any event you provide no defense of the largely fictional content of the thing. The “basic budget numbers” you refer to are nonsense because no such sums were ever authorized or appropriated for several of the years in question. This is a 2011 document that has, mainly, unsourced “projections” for future years out to 2016. It’s now 2014 and one can easily determine that the numbers in this document for 2011 through 2014 are garbage. The rest are too.

    You evidently didn’t understand the point I was making about the cost per pound to LEO of various vehicles capable of reaching the ISS. The author of your linked document was critical of CRS because the program’s total costs, when divided by the total contracted up-mass comes, according to him, to more than the cost per pound of material delivered to ISS by Shuttle. He actually understates his case, by the way. When he divides $3.5 billion by 88,160 pounds, he gets roughly $27,000 per pound. I get roughly $40,000 per pound. He pegs the Shuttle’s cost per pound at a bit over $21,000.

    Incidentally, if, as you claim, the CRS program actually cost $6.4 billion, why do you suppose the author of a document you chose to cite took the total CRS cost to be what >I’ve always said it is – namely $3.5 billion? Just asking.

    But I digress. My main point was that when the Shuttle carried payloads weighing what your document’s author took to be a representative payload mass (35,264 lbs.) it was because most of that mass consisted of ISS parts during the ISS’s construction phase. The Shuttle didn’t always fly with such heavy payloads. I simply suggested that a more relevant comparison would be to the Falcon Heavy as it will likely be the main booster employed to build any future large structures in LEO. The numbers I started with are the ones I referenced in my above comment – 53 tonnes total payload and $85 million per FH launch as per the SpaceX web site. I made my own arithmetic error in that comparison by the way. The $1,600 figure I quoted is actually a per kilogram number. I left out one unit conversion. The FH’s cost per pound to LEO is actually $730.

    The CRS program assumed a completed ISS and payloads consisting of relatively modest quantities of consumables and science-related equipment and samples. The cost per pound of cargo delivered is less an issue than the fact that resupply can be done for a total mission cost much less than Shuttle and spread, for convenience, over more missions. Even your document’s author assigns a Shuttle mission a cost of $750 million apiece. CRS missions are far less than that.

    More important than the nominal cost per pound of CRS-delivered goods is the fact that the Shuttle wasn’t payload-size-efficient for ISS resupply. Even a Dragon or Cygnus can carry two or three tonnes of supplies. The ATV’s and HTV’s can carry even more. But none of them can carry anywhere near the over 35,000 pounds of stuff your document’s author assumes for an average Shuttle payload. And a good thing too. The contents of resupply craft have to be moved and stashed by the ISS crew by hand. Even in zero-G, it’s a lot of work to move 17.5 tons of anything from a cargo bay along a circuitous route to eventual storage areas inside the ISS. The ISS crew would be stuck for as much as a week or two being, essentially, zero-G warehousemen. The habitable volume of the ISS would be quickly oversubscribed by having to accommodate 17.5 tons of beans, bandages, socks and MRE’s at a whack. CRS allows manageable loads of consumables to be launched for a reasonable price. If the Shuttle only carried a Dragon-sized load of provender each time out, its cost per pound would be five or six times what your document’s author calculates.

    As I said – and still maintain is true – this whole cost per pound comparison was an apples-to-oranges proposition specifically designed to make Commercial Resupply Services look as bad as possible. Like the rest of the document it was, in other words, a hit piece. Just not a very good one.

  • Edward


    Thank you for the detailed analysis. I have been on vacation this week and did not have time to go through Kelly’s documents and financial numbers.

    The COTS and CCDev programs are clearly providing ISS service for less than even the Shuttle would have cost — not that the Shuttle is an option anymore — despite the costs associated with hardware development.

    Competition has always been a wonderful thing, in that it requires the competitors to continually become more efficient. This explains why NASA and Arianespace have not improved significantly over the past few decades, yet the commercial companies have quickly found ways to do the same jobs for less cost. Arianespace is definitely worried about Ariane 6 competing with SpaceX — so worried that they are seriously considering changing the design that they have already worked on for 18 months.

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