Tag Archives: boondoggle

California governor abandons high speed rail boondoggle

Reality strikes? Gavin Newsom, California’s new Democratic governor, announced during his state of the state speech today that he wants to abandon the very-overbudget-and-behind-schedule high speed rail project that the previous Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, had been pushing for years.

“Let’s level about the high-speed rail,” Newsom said. “Let’s be real, the current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.”

Recent estimates assessed former Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan would be cost about $77 billion and be completed in 2033. Newsom then pivoted to his alternate proposal, to instead connect the two Central Valley cities, 160 miles apart.

Newsom wasn’t really arguing for common sense, since he proposed replacing this big project with a smaller rail project connecting two smaller cities in the middle of the state. Like the bigger project, the logic of this escapes me. It is very unlikely enough Californians will be want to use the new route to make it profitable, or even practical.

In addition, he also said he didn’t want to return the federal dollars provided for the big project, essentially saying he wants to steal that money from the federal government to use in ways it was not intended.

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First SLS launch faces more delays

No surprise here: The scheduled June 2020 first unmanned launch of NASA’s Space System Launch (SLS), already delayed by three years, appears threatened by more delays.

[NASA needs to perform]a similar structural test of the liquid oxygen fuel tank before what is known as a “green run” test. For this exercise, NASA will assemble the two large tanks and then integrate them with the rocket’s four main RS-25 engines. Then, at a test stand in southern Mississippi, the rocket will fire its engines through a standard launch of the rocket.

NASA has yet to formally set a date for this “green run” test, but whenever it does occur will be a key indicator for when we will see the first actual launch of the SLS rocket. If the green run test is conducted late in 2019, there would still be a chance for a 2020 launch. However, the agency and its prime contractor for the core stage, Boeing, are on a tight timeline that has little margin for technical problems that might occur during the structural tests of the tank or the green run tests. Historically, during this integration and test process with other large rocket programs, major problems have often occurred.

It is not clear how deeply the shutdown affected the SLS timeline, even though core stage work did proceed. “The shutdown impacted at least day for day,” one source said of the schedule. “But I am sure it was more than that.”

NASA originally planned to launch the SLS rocket on its maiden flight in November 2017, so the rocket will now be at least three years later than originally anticipated. The program’s budget is more than $2 billion a year, so these delays have cost the agency considerably.

The article also outlines the problems NASA is having developing the rocket’s upper stage.

I predict that the June 2020 launch will slip, maybe as much as six months, into 2021. This means the first manned flight will also be delayed into 2024, at the earliest.

That means it will have taken NASA more than twenty years and more than $60 billion to build and fly a single manned mission. Moreover, the cost and difficulty of operating SLS will make it impossible to get the second manned flight off the ground any earlier than three to four years later, at the earliest.

There is no chance the U.S. will put new footprints on the Moon if it continues to rely on this boondoggle. Worse, a continued reliance on SLS will force the government, for political reasons, to use its power to squelch competing private efforts, something we are seeing with the endless delays NASA has imposed on the commercial crew program.

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Contamination found in shuttle engines to be used by SLS

Now we know why the first launch is likely delayed: It appears that contamination has been found in the used and refurbished shuttle engines that the Space Launch System is using.

A “routine quality assurance inspection” of the core stage, he said, discovered contamination in tubing in the engine section of the core stage, which hosts the vehicle’s four RS-25 main engines and associated systems. That contamination turned out to be paraffin wax, which is used to keep the tubes from crimping while being manufactured but is supposed to be cleaned out before shipment.

“The prime contractor determined the vendor was not fully cleaning the tubes and it was leaving residue in the tubes,” McErlean said. “This was retained as a requirement in the prime contractor’s spec, but it was not properly carried out.” Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, but he did not disclose the vendor who provided the contaminated tubing.

The contamination was initially found in a single tube, he said, but later checks found similar residue in other tubes. All the tubing in the core stage is now being inspected and cleaned, a process he said is not straightforward because of the “mass of tubing” in the engine section and also because cleaning is a “non-trivial process.”

Some obvious questions immediately arise:

1. These engines were previously flown on the space shuttles, numerous times. How did the paraffin wax, used “to keep the tubes from crimping while being manufactured,” remain in the tubes during all those shuttle flights?

2. Assuming the tubes were a new addition or replacement during the refurbishing process, it still seems astonishing that a subcontractor could be so lax. Did they really believe the wax did not need to be thoroughly cleaned?

3. While they have admitted that they will likely have to delay the launch because of issues with the core stage, why do they deny this contamination problem is the cause? More important, how much is it costing to fix? And how much time are they actually losing to fix it?

4. Finally, this is only one of many similar problems that we have seen with this entire project. Boeing and NASA have gotten so far about $40 billion to build this rocket, and have been working on it since 2006, more than a dozen years ago. Furthermore, they supposedly are building it using shuttle equipment in a Saturn rocket-type design in order to save money and time. Instead, they have wasted billions and taken more than three times longer than it took us to win World War II to get to a point where the program still has not flown.

Does anyone really believe this project is anything but a huge boondoggle? And if so, can they please tell me how it will be possible for the United States to really explore the heavens with a project run this incompetently?

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More SLS delays

Here we go again! At a three-day meeting this week aimed at resolving some of NASA’s scheduling issues for its Space Launch System (SLS), it appears that managers are faced with further launch delays because of the need to insert an extra SLS launch prior to the first manned flight.

The problem is that the first unmanned flight, presently set for December 2019 (but which I am positive will be delayed) will be not be using the second stage planned for later missions. In order to fly humans on that stage NASA needs to fly at least one more more unmanned mission beforehand. Since Congress has mandated that NASA use the SLS rocket to fly a mission to Europa, managers are now planning to insert that mission into the manifest prior to the manned mission.

At a major three day Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) at the Kennedy Space Center recently, NASA noted that the Europa Clipper mission has a formal, target launch date of 4 June 2022, the opening of a 21 day launch window that closes on 25 June.

A backup launch option exists in 2023.

The problem with the June 2022 launch window is that the mobile launcher that moves the rocket from the assembly building to the launchpad will likely not be ready by then. If it is not, then the next time Europa Clipper can fly, in 2023, will certainly force more delays on the first manned SLS/Orion flight. And even if it is ready, I am willing to bet that NASA will not be able to fly that manned mission in 2023 regardless. For years the agency has made it clear that they will need at least two years turn-around time between SLS launches.

So, my prediction that the first manned mission of SLS/Orion will occur in 2023 was wrong. I now predict it will not occur prior to 2024, more than 20 years after George Bush first proposed it.

Overall, the entire NASA project to replace the space shuttle with a manned rocket and capsule is the perfect poster boy for government incompetence, waste, and corruption. Twenty years, and all we will get, at most, is a single manned mission and one flight capsule. Worse, by 2024 the cost for this entire effort will likely have exceeded $50 billion. What a squandering of taxpayer money.

What makes this more infuriating is that this is not an exception, it is now the standard operating procedure for the entire federal government. From incompetence in the Navy to the failure of the Air Force to do something as simple as properly registering a person in the FBI’s gun national background check system, our federal government is a disaster. And I see only a token effort by Congress and even Trump to fix it.

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SLS needs more money!

Surprise, surprise! A GAO report finds that SLS is over budget and that NASA will need an additional $400 million to complete its first orbital launch in 2017.

NASA isn’t meeting its own requirements for matching cost and schedule resources with the congressional requirement to launch the first SLS in December 2017. NASA usually uses a calculation it calls the “joint cost and schedule confidence level” to decide the odds a program will come in on time and on budget. “NASA policy usually requires a 70 percent confidence level for a program to proceed with final design and fabrication,” the GAO report says, and the SLS is not at that level. The report adds that government programs that can’t match requirements to resources “are at increased risk of cost and schedule growth.”

In other words, the GAO says SLS is at risk of costing more than the current estimate of $12 billion to reach the first launch or taking longer to get there. Similar cost and schedule problems – although of a larger magnitude – led President Obama to cancel SLS’s predecessor rocket system called Constellation shortly after taking office. [emphasis mine]

I want to underline the current $12 billion estimate for the program’s cost to achieve one unmanned launch. That is four times what it is costing NASA to get SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to build their three spaceships, all scheduled for first manned launch before 2017. SLS not only can’t get off the ground before 2017, it can’t even get built for $12 billion.

If this isn’t the definition of a wasteful, boondoggle designed merely as pork, I don’t know what is. And what I do know is that there is no way SLS is going to ever get the United States back into space. It should be shut down, now.

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NASA reveals that the second flight of SLS in 20210 might not be manned.

Pigs in space: NASA reveals that the second flight of SLS in 20210 might not be manned.

This project officially started in 2010, which means this second flight will come more than a decade later. They will have spent more than $20 billion by that time, not counting the money spent on Orion. They will have also spent billions developing one engine for the upper stage, only to shelve it to develop another which they will need to test. Hence, the possibility that the second flight will be unmanned. NASA has also admitted that the third flight of SLS won’t come until 2024 at the earliest.

What kind of crap is this? This isn’t a space program or a project to explore the solar system. It is pure pork, a boondoggle designed to spend as much taxpayer dollars as possible for as long as possible. It is time to shut it down.

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