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Second SLS flight delayed until 2023?

Government in action! The second flight of NASA’s SLS rocket, originally scheduled for around 2021 as the first manned mission, faces a possible delay of two years to 2023 so that it can be outfitted to launch the lander/orbiter planetary probe to Europa rather than flown manned.

The upper stage will be a new design that has never flown before. Thus, it has to be flown at least once unmanned to test it. Moreover, Congress in its most recent budget mandated that SLS be used for the Europa mission, probably in a team effort with NASA management to find a purpose for this missionless rocket that Congress has micromanaged from the beginning.

NASA has not officially decided to replace SLS’s original lunar manned mission for this second flight with the Europa mission, but I fully expect them to do so. They can’t fly the rocket with humans on it without first testing that upper stage engine at least once. Furthermore, the entire goal of SLS is not to fly missions but to employ people in Congressional districts. Delaying the first flight two years to outfit it for an unmanned planetary probe serves that absurd mission wonderfully.

The situation thus is that SLS will have a launch rate of once every five years, with a giant standing army of NASA and contractor employees paid during those years to do practically nothing while waiting for the next launch. While the article notes the high cost of building anything for SLS, it doesn’t explain that the reason things cost so much is that the government is slow-walking the construction of everything.

Note also that this means that Lockheed Martin will have an additional five years or so to finish its third Orion capsule. By that point the company will likely have spent about $20 billion, to build three capsules. Only a fool and a Congressman would consider this a good buy for the money.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • You have something against the American Worker, Bob? SLS is all about Good Jobs At Good Wages.

    Yay for launch delays extending the program to the right!

  • Icepilot

    We need more diggers!
    Then we’ll need more fillers!

    Unemployment solved.

    You’re Welcome,
    The Federal Government

  • Edward


    At the risk that you were actually being sarcastic (as an engineer, I seem to be sarcasm-challenged), what we want is value for our money. If the scientists, engineers, and technicians working on SLS are not going to produce a rocket that provides a valuable service, then we might as well put them all on welfare — saving enough money either to buy other useful goods or services or to fund other welfare recipients. However, I would prefer that we direct these scientists, engineers, and technicians to space projects that would be beneficial.

    If SLS costs more than it is worth, then SLS looks like Icepilot’s suggestion to dig and fill ditches; just makework that makes workers feel useful.

    On a general note:
    At least SLS now has a mission. But do we need a 70 tonne capability in order to explore Europa? We have sent missions to Jupiter and to Saturn with less capable launch vehicles.

    Since the article says that the original intention was to use an Atlas V, this would suggest that the needed capability is only 18 tonnes. That is quite a difference. It seems that we are going to pay several billions of dollars for something that should cost 1/10 as much. Those are a lot of squandered space-bucks that could have funded plenty more science missions. We could have employed a bunch of people to do several productive science programs and the several rockets needed to launch them, rather than to build one larger-than-needed rocket.

    The missions that we propose for SLS should need the capabilities of SLS. Presumably that is why Congress designed it for such capabilities. Otherwise we are squandering valuable resources, including the talents and expertise of our workforce.

    I agree; we could have employed those people to dig ditches (with spoons — hat tip to Milton Freedman) and then to fill them in again.

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