The first launch of NASA’s SLS rocket delayed again

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During the second meeting of the National Space Council today this tidbit was quietly revealed by NASA’s acting administrator:

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot acknowledged that the space agency’s heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, would not make its first uncrewed test flight until 2020. The first crewed SLS-Orion mission is still due to take a trip around the moon and back in 2023.

Lightfoot also mentioned that NASA provide support for a 2020 commercial lunar landing.

SLS continues to be this ever receding but very expensive fantasy, scheduled for a future that never arrives, while spending enormous amounts of money that would be far better spent in other ways. The first launch, should it happen in 2020, would be three years later than originally planned, nine years after the initiation of the SLS project, and sixteen years after George Bush first proposed it. For this single unmanned test mission NASA will have spent about $25 billion. Meanwhile, I fully expect Falcon Heavy as well as Blue Origin’s New Glenn to fly numerous times, both costing mere pennies in comparison, and far less time to develop.

The article at the link is not focused on this tidbit. Instead provides a good summary of the National Space Council meeting itself. It increasingly appears, not surprisingly, that the Trump administration is going to focus on streamlining the space regulatory process for commercial space. It is also taking a look at the national security threats to U.S. military assets in space, posed by China and others, which are forcing the military and administration to review how it has been building these assets. Expect a continuing and accelerating shift by the Air Force to many frequently launched smallsats instead big but rarely launched behemoths.

It also appears to me that the Trump administration is treading lightly when it discusses the giant pork projects like SLS. It is partnering closely with all the private companies that build space assets, from the independent commercial space sector epitomized by SpaceX to the traditional big space companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Such a partnership will make it politically difficult to cut the pork that these traditional big companies depend on. Moreover, Trump appears to like these big government projects, as they represent how the U.S. has done space since the 1960s, allowing him to claim credit for a big space project, even if it never flies.

Posted from Beitar just over the green line in the West Bank. I head home late tonight.



  • Localfluff

    Why? The SLS+Orion project is on countdown to launch since a decade and it works oll korrect. Like this:

    Under cover of this ridiculous collusion-memo-Russians-whatever nonsense, individual senators have made themselves indispensable to the administration and uses it to favor their own cash cow spending. Trump won’t sacrifice anything to try to fight that, he will win win win as in at least looking like a winner.

    Btw, businessmen hate taxes, but they love credits, especially in the real estate industry. So there won’t be any solution to the debt crisis under Trump, I bet. Higher growth will be matched by even bigger public spending (hopefully space somehow gets its share of that, I hope it becomes part of the infrastructure bill). It might very well be that Trump’s view of NASA is shaped by the space race days. But he certainly is very aware of the success of private space too, simply because he reads the business press. His fellow billionaires who invest in space aren’t very shy. I wonder how Bezos running the NYT affects the prospects of Blue origin. Trump said in his campaign that he thinks that Amazon’s “monopoly” should be regulated. I guess that’s something he could find common ground with the democrats on. And that’s not about ideology, that’s personal. He would win against his enemey Bezos, win by uniting the congress and is only waiting for the phases of the Moon to somehow lock in a third win before he acts on it, according to his win win win way of doing things.

  • Kirk

    “first uncrewed test flight until 2020. The first crewed SLS-Orion mission … in 2023.” Has the Europa Clipper’s scheduled launch still not been determined? I suppose that between 2020 and 2023 they could expect to build two Block 1B vehicles and schedule the crewed launch shortly (as shortly as pad / launcher refurbishment allows) after the Europa Clipper launch. From what I can tell, EC is still in its design phase (runs from Feb 2017 through Sept 2018). Does that give them enough schedule leeway?

  • Tom Billings

    Local said:

    “I wonder how Bezos running the NYT affects the prospects of Blue origin.”

    Jeff Bezos bought the *Washington*Post* in 2011, not the NYT. He did so because it was recognizable as one of the flagship progressive papers, like the NYT, mixed with one other reason. In 2011, the Obama Administration had made it clear they intended to Chicago-ize US politics, and US political relations with business. The rules in Chicago and its surrounding Cook County Democratic Party were pretty simple:

    1.) Donate to the Party regularly

    2.) Never criticize the Party openly

    3.) Place in your window a sign stating your support for the Cook County Democratic Party

    Following these rules kept the City and County governments from sending their license and permit inspectors through too often. Refuse to follow them, and you would be inspected for permits you didn’t even know you had, and
    shut down again and again till you “corrected the problem”, …again and again, essentially shutting down your store by eventual refusal of your business license. In 2010 the Obama Administration made clear they would do the same to anyone in the US, by doing it to a nationally known builder of musical instruments, Gibson Guitar. Their factory had its materials assets confiscated and shut down for 5 years.

    Jeff Bezos, not wanting his largest retail store in the world shut down, and already donating “properly”, bought his “sign in the window”, by purchasing the Washington Post, the only big newspaper to rival the NYT in the egregiousness of its progressive slant. He keeps his hands off its progressive staffing and coverage, so that if Trump is booted out in 2020, he can claim he was a “loyal supporter through those 4 horrid years”, … of exactly the progressive thought replacing Trump. If Trump stays in office, Bezos can kick the money-losing bird-cage-liner to the side, and get on with making money and building spaceships.

  • @Kirk the latest NASA budget has moved Europa Clipper onto a commercial launch vehicle:

    “The Administration proposes to launch the Clipper on a commercial launch vehicle, which would be several hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper than an SLS flight and would not impact the availability of SLS rockets to support human exploration. The Administration recognizes the benefits of using an SLS vehicle, including a shorter cruise to Europa and a more direct trajectory (enabling a simpler thermal design and earlier science return to inform future outer planet missions), but makes this proposal primarily due to budget considerations.”

    See page PS-77 in

    Also on page PS-83: “If the Congress were to support the Administration’s position, NASA could move forward this year with securing a commercial launch vehicle.”

  • Localfluff

    Europa Clipper gets a slower trip on a commercial launcher, but an earlier launch date! The spacecraft as it is being worked on, is from the beginning designed to fit on existing launchers (mass wise at least). Otherwise the $1½ billion or so that the Europa Clipper will cost would have had to be added to the waste of SLS when it never flies and the Clipper remains grounded. The planetary probes people at NASA don’t seem have had enough trust in the SLS.

    Galileo took 6 years and 2 moths from launch to orbital insertion at Jupiter. FH should be able to shorten that a bit. If only a Venus flyby, and no Earth flybys, is needed, two orbits around the Sun would be skipped and it should take more like 4½ years. Isn’t it likely that SLS will be delayed by at least an extra 1½ years? Flyby probes have reached Jupiter within 18 months.

    @Tom Billings, Thanks for the logic behind it.

  • Kirk

    Steve: Wow, thanks, I hadn’t heard that. Now we wait to see what congress does with the Administration’s proposal.

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