United Launch Chose SLS Pork Over Real Technological Progress

United Launch Alliance made short-sighted decisions to keep taking Space Launch System (SLS) Pork over making real technological progress. The SLS is a Shuttle-Derived Launch Vehicle. The shuttle was politically compromised 1970s technology that flew from 1981 to 2010.

NASA has been funded SLS for $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion per year since 2011. United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security that was set up in December 2006.

ULA operates the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles. Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V family was built around a Common Core Booster powered by the Russian-built RD-180 engine. Boeing’s Delta IV family was built around a Common Booster Core powered by the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. The joint venture eliminated competition within the USA for launch until SpaceX became successful. Boeing and Lockheed merged so they would not have to compete against each other for NASA and military launches.

The Atlas V and Delta IV rockets were developed under the EELV program, with the first launches of both occurring in 2002. ULA also has the Delta IV Heavy rockets will keep launching heavy payloads.

ULA got a no-competition $11 billion US Air Force block-buy of 36 rocket cores for up to 28 launches, awarded in Dec 2013. This was in spite of costing five times more per launch.

In 2010, ULA could have started building gas stations in space and orbital refueling. The engineers who suggested developing this well-known but undeveloped technology were almost fired and NASA and engineers were told not to mention fuel depots. Gas stations in space would mean that existing cheaper rockets could perform the SLS missions. This would threaten the $2 billion per year of SLS funding.

SLS is part of decades of wasteful and wasted spending in space technology. Now we learn of other ways that technological progress in space capability were actively suppressed.

This gave ULA $17 billion from 2011-2019 in SLS funding and which may result in a hold down test firing in 2020 and perhaps a launch in 2021. The test-firing and launch will need another $6 billion through 2021. The Space Shuttle cost about $200 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars for 133 launches.

SLS will go into the dustbin of history when SpaceX launches an unmanned Super Heavy Starship to the moon. ULA will be crippled once they lose the billions per year from SLS.

In 2019, SpaceX now has a project with NASA to develop orbital refueling. This will be used to have two rockets meet in space and have the fuel transferred from one to the other. This can also be used to transfer fuel to a fuel depot.

SpaceX will takeover with larger and better reusable rockets and with refueling and fuel depots. Space capability will go up 100 times or more and SpaceX will create vertical businesses that are thousands of times more valuable than just the launch market.

There were larger prizes beyond launch. ULA ignored them just so they could take $3 billion per year to do no real development. They were getting $2 billion per year for the big rocket programs and another $1 billion for being the only ones with critical heavy launch capability with the Delta IV.

Tweets that Show the Suppression of Fuel Depot Technology

History of Pork and Waste

Here is a quote from a 2008 report after the Constellation Program already had spent about $6+ billion from 2005-2007.

In 2008, the Constellation Program and its projects made significant progress well beyond artists’ concepts and PowerPoint presentations. Since its initiation in 2005, the Constellation Program reached the end of formulation and entered into the development phase.

Prior to the SLS there was the Constellation Program to try use Shuttle rocket technology for a dumb booster rocket. constellation was canceled because it had only performed one bad test after getting about $12 billion from 2005 to 2010. The program review shows the contractors saying that they could not be blamed for failing for falling behind schedule because the budget was cut from $14-16 billion down to a mere $12 billion.

Constellation had Boeing, Pratt and Whitney and ATK and about 200 other companies as contractors.

The Constellation plan over 20 years was to spend about $100 billion on it. This was replaced with SLS which was projected to cost about $35-41 billion from 2011 to 2025.

NASA (ESAS study) indicated it would maximize the use of old shuttle hardware and established technology in order to reduce cost and minimize risk. This was flawed reasoning. It was vastly more expensive to try to use Shuttle technology than starting over.

NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2010 to make resources available for the Constellation program and then the SLS program.