NASA buys 18 new space shuttle engines for SLS for $1.79 billion


NASA has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $1.79 billion contract to build 18 new space shuttle R-25 engines for its still unlaunched SLS rocket.

In plain math, that equals $100 million per engine. Since SLS uses four of these engines per launch, and since that rocket is entirely expendable and will thus throw these engines away after each launch, that guarantees each SLS launch must cost no less than $400 million, about four times the price of a Falcon Heavy launch.

But wait, there’s more! Eric Berger at Ars Technica notes

NASA has previously given more than $1 billion to Aerojet to “restart” production of the space shuttle era engines and a contract for six new ones. So, according to the space agency, NASA has spent $3.5 billion for a total of 24 rocket engines. That comes to $146 million per engine. (Or 780,000 bars of Gold-Pressed Latinum, as this is a deal only the Ferengi could love.)

That means each SLS launch must cost a minimum of just under $600 million, and that’s just the price for the four engines. It doesn’t include the rocket itself, the ground systems, its upper stages, or any other component.

But wait, there’s more! Berger also reminds us that SpaceX estimates the cost to build each its Starship Raptor engines to be about $1 million, and each will be used multiple times. He also points out that the Raptor is actually more powerful than the R-25 engine.

That’s okay though. This is the federal government, run by Washington, whose goal for the few decades has been to let no project succeed, and to waste as much money as possible in the process. And if they can squelch the dreams and aspirations of everyone else as they do it, so much the better!

23 comments

  • Col Beausabre

    24 engines is enough for 6 launches….Assume some are used up in ground testing….I haven’t heard that SLS has more than one launch planned, Something smells

  • Ray Van Dune

    They are scrambling to use the “sunk costs fallacy”. “Look, we have enough engines for 6 flights, so why stop after one or two?”

    The Senate Launch System was part of Obama’s fundamental transformation of NASA – cancel everything, but if anything survives make damn sure it is a real economic stinker that takes away from anything useful. That’s what happens when you put the Faculty Lounge in charge of our future.

  • pzatchok

    If they never fly its just money invested in hardware to use in the future.

  • Scott M.

    Eric Berger is turning into a real sass queen regarding SLS. I, for one, could not be happier.

  • Chris Lopes

    @Ray

    As much as I’d love to lay SLS at the feet of Obama, it was actually Congress who pushed this white (and dead) elephant on U.S. tax payers. Obama’s first response to space policy was basically “build the tech first, then decide what to do with it.” He was kicking the can of objectives down the road to other administrations because he wasn’t really interested in space policy anyway. Since that didn’t provide enough pork for some powerful members of Congress, we got SLS.

  • Ray & Chris: Go back to the July 2010 archives of BtB for that history. Two essays in particular covered Obama’s failures, which in turn prompted further Congressional failures.

    July 8, 2010: Both for and against the Obama plan

    July 14, 2010: You’ve got to play the game

  • David

    The part of the story that amazes me, is that these engines cost $40 million each in the original reusable shuttle configuration, and the new, cheaper, expendable version costs… $146 million each. Aerojet, you keep using that word “cheaper”. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  • Steve

    Well, at least we know a lot of museums will have engines to display some day. Soon.

  • commodude

    I wonder when they’ll wind up on govdeals?

    NASA dumped a bunch of space shuttle equipment through that site after the shuttle was decommissioned.

  • Jay

    The government just bought a $1.79 billion insurance policy on not canceling SLS. I can hear it on the senate floor- “You can’t cancel SLS now, we just bought 18 engines! for it”

  • Phil Carson

    Now this is very interesting Mr. Zimmerman. If you don’t care, like to know what you make of it?

    https://www.zerohedge.com/technology/spacex-camels-nose-under-tent-rapid-space-militarization

    Lot of gymnastic rationalizing and anecdotal guess work? Some things this author is suggesting don’t add up in the direction intended. Some just don’t add up to much at all on the face of evidence.
    Certain implications are pretty neat. Rather than SpaceX being a more or less Military Industrial Complex neuvo player on disguise, maybe it is something more altruistic, somebody is trying to bypass the amerikan nomenklatura branch’s of the deep state?
    And if so, will they try to sabotage SpaceX?

  • Phil Carson

    PS, or is it counter psy-ops from those who loose power the more prosperous and unfettered by their power and influence people and any economic activity they self determine.
    After all, one of the most essential elements of ordered liberty is unfettered economic activity and true wealth creation by dint of industrious creative inventive fearless sweat of the brow, ol’ elbow grease labor. The true source of wealth. Not stealing and extorting it from those who create wealth.

    Globo=pedo does not care for self sufficient self determining advancement of sciences, or technology, or anything they don’t have their fetid meathooks sunk into.
    Personally, this human extinction movement called the “elites”, nothing elite about them, I always believed they sabotaged NASA soon as it was politically safe to do so. And have been complicit in its continued state of bankruptcy, moral and financially, aside from turning NASA into another federal money laundering operation hiding behind another shell of legitimate government agency they have left from corrupting it.
    That’s essentially Mexico in a nutshell. A narco state organized crime syndicate hiding behind the shell of a cored out sovereign nation state.
    Hell, its what the deep state or whatever these clowns are called are doing with our government.

    So the question it seems, what is SpaceX then?
    I like to think its more or less a genuine article.
    Whatever it is, we best be getting humans into space and building a viable functioning anti-fragile frontier. There’s so much wealth and prosperity out there, so much freedom and liberty, once Men leave Earth for good the evil of tyranny may never get its meathooks into space as it has on the earthbound captive audience human race.

    I ain’t fooling around neither here. This is dead nuts serious [deleted] It’s the future of mankind at stake. May well be survival of it.

  • Phil Carson: My rules are very clear. No obscenities. I have deleted it from your comment. You are warned. Next time you will be suspended for a week. The third time you will be banned.

    Go somewhere else if you can’t talk like an adult.

  • Rose

    @David these engines cost $40 million each in the original reusable shuttle configuration, and the new, cheaper, expendable version costs… $146 million each

    This.

    And wow, Berger’s article is biting!

    A dollar bill masses right about 1 gram, so 146 million of them would mass 146,000 kg, weighing 321,875 lbf. The RS-25 has a sea level thrust of 418,000 lbf, so at least its T/W$ is greater than unity at 1.30. But that can’t be right, as I see the RS-25 has a T/W = 73.1. How can that be? Hmm, gold is going for $55/g and 55 * 1.3 = 71.5. Ah ha! That’s it! The RS-25 isn’t gold plated — it’s made of solid gold.

  • Andrew_W

    The Raptor has slightly more power at sea level than the RS-25, and is designed for dozens of uses. According to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, it costs less than $1 million to build a Raptor engine.
    Unbelievable that the SLS zombie won’t die.

  • Captain Emeritus

    NASA Tower:
    “Roger SLS 1, hold short.
    Expect takeoff clearance shortly.
    I’ve got a pair of Falcon Heavy boosters landing on the recovery pads next to you and a Starship on a long straight in final for the Cape.
    Thanks for your patience SLS 1.
    Splash 1 reports the throwaway zone is clear.
    You are cleared for takeoff!
    Snap, crackle, pop!
    Cancel takeoff clearance SLS 1, your transmission is unreadable.
    Virgin 2, you’re cleared to land on the shuttle skid strip.”

  • M Puckett

    “these engines cost $40 million each in the original reusable shuttle configuration, and the new, cheaper, expendable version costs… $146 million each” That’s a negative $106 million in savings!

    That’s called Cheaper Than Dirt pricing. Familiar to firearms enthusiasts.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Phil Carson, the Zerohedge article was complete garbage. I read all the comments, too, hoping for some sense. Only one sensible one amongst the usual completely feral ZH commentors.

  • R7 Rocket

    While the reusable Starship/Superheavy will use Full Flow Staged Cycle engines (Raptor), the expendable Senate Lunch System core stage will use four Staged Taxpayer Extortion Cycle rocket engines!

  • Edward

    Rose wrote: “Ah ha! That’s it! The RS-25 isn’t gold plated — it’s made of solid gold.

    Early in my career, I discovered that the flight hardware I was working on cost more than its weight in gold. Making it out of gold would not significantly change the price. This is true for a lot of spaceflight hardware.

    In its effort to lower the price tag for access to space, SpaceX may be changing this trend. As Robert noted, the reusable Raptor engine is shockingly inexpensive to make.

    Robert,
    Unless you are assuming that SLS production will cease when these 24 engines are exhausted, a reasonable assumption, I think it is unfair to include the development cost of the single-use RS-25 engine but use the per-unit cost of the Raptor for comparison. The cost of each additional RS-25 seems to be around $100 million, meaning the last 4-1/2 SLS first stages cost over $400 million to make. The rest of the first stage, the rest of the rocket, and the Orion capsule and service module would add hundreds of millions of dollars more to the cost of each mission. Add in mission planning, training, and logistics costs, and each mission could easily surpass $1 billion.

    As we can see, launch costs continue to be a major factor with manned flight. Commercial companies should be able to find a niche making launch costs a minor expense.

  • Richard M

    Early in my career, I discovered that the flight hardware I was working on cost more than its weight in gold.

    If we’re working off $146 million per RS-25, by my math, it’s a little less than it would be if it were made out of solid gold, but a good deal more than if it were made out of pure platinum. At least, at current prices.

  • Richard M

    As I read Chris Lopes, by the way, I think he’s basically on the same page as you regarding Obama, Bob.

    In truth, most of the good things we got out of Obama space policy were really the work of Lori Garver – who, unlike Obama, really did have a genuine interest in space, and in SpaceX could recognize a good thing when she saw it, and fought hard for it. Though some cynics might suggest that the White House could be more easily engaged to back her up on her quest (to the point of engaging Obama’s famous visit to SpaceX’s new facility at the Cape in 2010) because Elon Musk also happened to be running high profile solar energy and electric car companies.

  • Milt

    Has it occurred to anyone else that with the Corona Virus debacle going on, it is all but impossible to contact anyone’s congressional representative and/or senators to complain about NASAs gold-plated rocket procurement boondoggle?

    Ordinarily, such insanity — paraphrasing Gamble Rogers, the *square root* of insanity — would prompt me to at least call / email all of “our” representatives in Washington, or at their state offices here in Florida and raise hell, but — now — there is conveniently nobody there to talk to.

    So much for “participatory democracy” in the Age of Covid-19.

    A parting shot, though. If we ALLOW this insanity to go forward, then we — as the saying goes — deserve the government that we get. So, given that there is “nobody home” in Washington these days, how DO we protest this criminal insanity?

    Can anybody — including Mr. Zimmerman — get in contact with Tucker Carlson at Fox about this? My thinking is that Tucker might actually talk about this on his show. God knows, nobody else in the presstitute mainstream media will.

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