As of August 2018, Boeing has spent $11.9 billion working on the Space Launch System. (SLS) Boeing will spend at least $8.9 billion through 2021—double the amount initially planned—while delivery of the first Core Stage has slipped 2 ½ years from June 2017 to December 2019 and may slip further.
SpaceX developed the Falcon Heavy rocket for $500 million. The Falcon Heavy almost has the payload capacity of the Block 1 version of the SLS. A SpaceX BFR and BFS could be built with $2 to 10 billion of funding.
The SLS should be canceled and the funding given to SpaceX for the BFR and BFS.
The NASA Office of Inspector General reports in IG-19-001 on the Space Launch System.
Based on Boeing’s current expenditure rate, NASA will need to increase the contract value by approximately $800 million to complete the first Core Stage for delivery to the Kennedy Space Center in December 2019. If the EM-1 launch takes place in June 2020, more than $400 million—for a total of $1.2 billion—would need to be added to the contract. This amount would only ensure delivery of Core Stage 1 and would not include the billions more required to complete work on Core Stage 2 and the EUS. Consequently, in light of the Project’s development delays, we have concluded NASA will be unable to meet its EM-1 launch window currently scheduled between December 2019 and June 2020.
The auditor expects additional delays. Significant integration and testing activities—including the Green Run Test—in which technical issues are regularly found, have yet to occur.
Boeing’s development of “command and control” hardware and software needed to conduct this test is already 18 months behind a schedule established in 2016. This means the Stennis facility won’t be ready to accommodate a green run test until at least May 2019, with further delays possible.
Several poor contract management practices by NASA contributed to the SLS Program’s cost and schedule overruns. First, contrary to current federal guidance, NASA lacks visibility into the Boeing Stages contract costs
because all three of the company’s key activities—development of Core Stages 1 and 2 and the EUS—are co-mingled into the same contract line item number, making it difficult for the Agency to track expenditures. As a result, NASA is unable to determine the cost of a single Core Stage, which will affect the Agency’s ability to determine pricing for future Core Stages. Second, we found flaws in NASA’s evaluation of Boeing’s performance, resulting in NASA inflating the contractor’s scores and leading to overly generous award fees.
The original plan was to save costs and utilize technologies already in development. Congress directed NASA to develop the SLS by incorporating elements from the retired Space Shuttle Program and the canceled Constellation Program. However, this has cost many times more than paying SpaceX to develop superior rockets.
NASA complied with these directives and designed the SLS by leveraging the following key components and contractors:
* Four RS-25 engines originally designed and built for the Space Shuttle Program. NASA contracted with Aerojet Rocketdyne to prepare the engines for use in the SLS, including new controllers that communicate commands and monitor an engine’s health and status.
* Two solid rocket boosters being built by Northrup Grumman Corporation from components used by the Space Shuttle and Constellation programs. The length of the boosters was extended by adding a fifth segment that increases the amount of solid rocket fuel the boosters can hold,
thereby increasing thrust capabilities.
* The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage is the upper stage, also known as the second stage, for the initial SLS launches and is based upon a similar design used on the Delta IV rocket. Built by Boeing, the upper stage is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system with a single RL-10 engine and is currently stored at Kennedy Space Center (Kennedy) awaiting integration with the rest of the SLS rocket and Orion capsule for the EM-1 mission.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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