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NASA pushing for an SLS launch before the end of the year

According to a statement by NASA administrator Bill Nelson earlier this week, the agency is working hard in its stacking of the SLS rocket in Florida, with the goal of launching before the end of the year.

That statement was revealed in the last sentence of this article describing the work on getting SLS ready, work that appears to be moving along briskly with few surprises.

The present official targeted launch date is set for November. The agency had said it would take between six to ten months to get the rocket ready after the core stage arrived at Kennedy in May. This pointed to a launch sometime between November and March. Right now it appears that NASA is trying very hard to meet that earlier date.

This aggressive effort to launch on schedule is behavior quite out of character for the NASA of the past three decades. In the past, the agency would have moved leisurely along, so that those four months of margin would have almost certainly been used and the launch would have been delayed until March.

I suspect this push now to launch on time is partly generated by a fear that SpaceX’s Starship will reach orbit before SLS. If that happens it will be a major embarrassment to NASA, considering that the agency has spent about three times longer and ten times more money on its rocket than SpaceX.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It even makes government work more efficiently.

Stay tuned. There is still a lot of time between now and November. This race between comparable rockets being built by the government and a private company appears to be neck and neck as we head down the stretch.


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  • David Eastman

    It’s quite interesting to watch how integration is going with SLS. At each stage, for example the ICPS mate, we hear that it’s being done, and there is an initial report that it’s complete, perhaps even with a public photo or two, then there is a report that “no, not closed out yet, we have some issues holding off completion.” And then 2 or 3 days later, the issues are resolved and things move on. I’ve got no insight on what any of the various issues have been and how serious they are, but the way things just click along seems unusual. I don’t know whether they’ve just reached the stage where all the earlier investment in detailed plans and the like finally bears fruit, or whether they’ve just pulled their thumbs out in the face of competition, but it’s good to see. I’ll still be surprised if it actually launches in November, but it’s now in the realm of possibility.

  • Jeff Wright

    Apollo was better funded…and the breakneck pace destroyed some relationships. It takes time to get that mojo back-and the sickening hostility the men get from internet trolls doesen’t help.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Even if SLS somehow manages to launch in November – which I still doubt will happen – it is surpassingly unlikely to beat Starship into space. I think SLS is now fated never to be “the world’s most powerful rocket.”

  • Gary


    Are you saying NASA engineers are allowing their jobs to be impacted by “internet trolls?” Has that been going on for years? As the late great Lewis Grizzard said, “I don’t think I’d have told that, brother.”

  • pawn

    NASA can appear to move at any speed they choose. NASA has never had to compete in the public eye since the Moon race, fifty years ago. The romantic notion of the existence of steely eyed rocket scientists burning the midnight oil, selflessly toiling away out of the public eye has been thoroughly purged and neutered replaced with wishful and magical thinking for decades. I seriously doubt that the actual technical progress matches the image they are pushing. It’s amazing to me that people can so easily forget how insanely and dangerously caviler NASA has been in the past.

    Sure, all the bolt holes may be matching up and the connectors can mate with a little twisting here and there but these days all the hard stuff is pushed back into the software, where metrics aren’t so obvious or reliable. Integration is more than what the eye can see. It’s also where NASA (and the other Federal agencies) have consistently performed very poorly.

    “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”

  • Edward

    pawn wrote: “The romantic notion of the existence of steely eyed rocket scientists burning the midnight oil, selflessly toiling away out of the public eye has been thoroughly purged and neutered replaced with wishful and magical thinking for decades.

    Maybe so, but there seem to be plenty of steely eyed missile men over at Rocket Lab, SpaceX, and Virgin Orbit. Unfortunately, many people get jealous of non-governmental success and troll the internet harassing those who appreciate steely eyed rocket men and their accomplishments.

    Gary, the best place to work in the federal government may be a low bar, but I bet that the employees (government and contractor) really enjoy what they do at NASA. Most of the time they accomplish great things, and many times the do so close to schedule and budget. Sadly, they occasionally go way over budget and schedule, and they also have to deal with a Congress that does not understand or appreciate what an asset it has in NASA’s employees.

  • Patrick Underwood

    My nephew is a NASA employee working on Orion, and with the astronauts, in Houston. It’s a dream job, and I really envy him.

    He’s not terribly interested in my opinion about SLS versus Starship. :)

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