Will the Space Launch System Reckoning be in 2020 or 2021?

Jim Bridenstine congratulated SpaceX on Starship and then poked them about the Commercial Crew program being year late.

NASA technical people and NASA Director Bridenstine know that they could save about $5 billion over the next two years by canceling the Space Launch System and using the flight-proven SpaceX Falcon Heavy to launch the Orion capsule.

Bridenstine told Congress in 2019 that the SLS EM-1 mission (which is delayed into 2021 with SLS) would require two launches: one to place the Orion into orbit the Earth, and a second carrying an upper stage. The two would then dock and the upper stage ignited to send Orion to the moon.

Bridenstine got stopped by Senator Shelby of Alabama.

NASA awarded firm-fixed-price contracts in 2014 to Boeing and SpaceX, valued at up to $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively, for the development of crew transportation systems that meet NASA requirements and for the initial service missions to the ISS.

Spx-dm2 was scheduled for November, 2019.

The Crew abort test is now likely to be late November or early December. The crew flight test would be about two months after a successful crew abort test.

SpX-dm2 will be a crewed test flight with two astronauts for two weeks. They will use the capsule planned for the first operational crew mission.

If NASA used the SpaceX Falcon Heavy to complete the EM-1 mission they would save double what was paid to SpaceX for the commercial crew project.

Boeing was paid more and Boeing is not completing and certifying its crew transport system (CTS Starliner) before SpaceX.

GAO reported:

Program Office Workload Is a Continued Schedule Risk to Certification.

The Commercial Crew Program’s ability to process certification data packages for its two contractors continues to create uncertainty about the timing of certification. Specifically, the program is concurrently reviewing and approving both contractors’ phased safety reviews and verification closure notices. [GAO] previously reported that program officials, the contractors, and independent review organizations had concerns about a “bow wave” of work for the program.

SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Should Fly to Orbit Before SLS has its Green Run Hold Down Test

The main constraint on the Super-Heavy booster is ramping up the production of the Raptor engines. They will need 100 Raptor engines to get to the orbital test. They build one Raptor engine currently every eight days. On 2 months they want to get to one Raptor engine every two days. By Q12020, they want to get to one engine every day. This means the orbital flight would not be until about March, 2020.

This would be ahead of the Space Launch System launch which is looking like 2021. This should be ahead of the green run hold down fueled test of the Space Launch System.

It has been obvious and clear since the first Falcon Heavy launch that the SLS should have been canceled. This would have saved about $5-6 billion already. When the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship is flying to orbit and the SLS has still not had a Green run then Nextbigfuture will record all of the waste and delays permitted by Bridenstine and forced by Senator Shelby. In 2020, the waste will be about $8-9 billion and in 2021 it will be about $12-13 billion.

A successful orbital flight of a SpaceX Super Heavy Starship might not be enough to kill Space Launch System. It would have the payload capacity of any planned version of SLS and it would be fully reusable while SLS is expendable.

An actual moon mission could be needed to kill SLS. It would be worth it for SpaceX to risk a SpaceX Super Heavy Starship. They would fly it to the moon after the first orbital flight. If they did not lose it then it would only cost a few tens of millions of dollars. I think they would attempt it later in 2020. This would likely let SpaceX takeover all of the SLS missions and the moon program.

SOURCES- GOA, NASA, Twitter Bridenstine, SpaceX, Elon Musk
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

22 thoughts on “Will the Space Launch System Reckoning be in 2020 or 2021?”

  1. It is not the number of launches required, it is the cost per payload, assuming at least one of *the* payload can be launched with the rocket. Four times the payload at ten times the price is not a good deal! It should get cheaper with volume.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Orion capsule is not *stuck* to the SLS, in that other rockets could launch it for the same or other uses. It could succeed even if the SLS rocket is cancelled(?)

  3. Thanx for interview cite. B is from my orig home town, and has a Moon Museum in his house, from before his appt. Now, I suspect he will do everything he can *politically* to bolster lunar presence, but the political fascination in Mars has always been the bottom line reason to NOT go to the Moon first, for lunar ISRU, to support the Mars goal. That would take too long, no matter how much sense it made, for the politician to get credit. Thus the argument was, so nothing at all (edit: lunar) was done for 40 years. To use the Moon as a practice landing site does not really count as lunar ISRU, seems to me. I am more hopeful of the Bezos style landers actually getting that first ounce of extraterrestrial material processed and USED. The next ounce will be far cheaper, unlike the next launch.
    It should be pointed out that lunar development is only happening because we can’t wait any longer given the need and advanced tech, esp Musk rockets. It is certainly not the result of the main powers coming to their senses suddenly.
    But Space is a *target rich* environment, if you are shooting for knowledge. The Musk Orbital Flying Object (MOFO) is such a good thing!
    And, of course, most of this stuff is based on the false assumption that the surface of a planet is the right place for an expanding technological civilization.

  4. Bridenstine has stated in interviews that NASA’s focus, as directly agreed by Trump, is “Moon to Mars” – i.e. that as far as NASA is concerned, going to the moon is all about testing technologies for going to and landing on Mars. In fact, he’s claimed that LOP-G is essential for landing on the moon because “of course” we’ll need a LOP-G equivalent for Mars:

    “Gateway is a critical capability. Of course, we’re going to need a Gateway-type capability at Mars. We will need landers at Mars. Now the entry, descent, and landing on Mars is very different than the entry, descent, and landing on the Moon. But it is also true that an ascent module from Mars up to a Gateway around Mars and an ascent vehicle from the Moon up to a Gateway around the Moon, those would be very similar capabilities.”
    ( http://www.theverge.com/2019/7/12/20691740/nasa-administrator-jim-bridenstine-bill-gerstenmaier-reassignment )
    There’s some other good info in that interview, such as NASA apparently leaving any mining of lunar water for fuel to commercial partners…

  5. I whole-heartedly agree that SLS should have been cancelled. Boeing looks for every reason possible to not deliver.

  6. This says the Bigelow Aerospace BA2100 can fly on BFR. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BA_2100

    Bigelow does have a working relationship with SpaceX. They flew the BEAM module to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Cargo Dragon, and they already reserved 4 Crew Dragon flights to the ISS for tourists.

    If they intend to launch a BA2100 into orbit, it will be aboard a Starship. They don’t have the budget to book an SLS flight. Even if they did have a billion bucks of cash lying around, they wouldn’t be insane enough to book an SLS flight.

  7. Er.. isn’t the proposed larger Starship 18m in diameter?

    Isn’t that enough to deploy the proposed Bigelow 2100 m3 habitat?

    A few of them could go a long way to starting a space tourism business, with Starships to ferry people to them and back.

  8. ?What? The SLS was always a mistake. It was a jobs program. Many companies gave NASA designs for a new launch system they were quite good….the senate threw them all out then decided they would pick the design and suppliers used.

    Here are the facts:

    IF SLS flew tomorrow it could fly 4 times…thats it. Why? Because it only has enough engines for 4 launches. They are building entirely new engines which means more engineering and Billions more and maybe another set of launches by 2030.

    It will cost a least a 800 million to a billion to launch…..that is not sustainable.

    This is for the very first block…Yes this is it.

    The Starship is slated for 220,000lbs with a higher max targeted. The SLS will have a max payload as the block 1 of 209,000lbs.

    With SLS you are getting a rocket and maybe a capsule. With Starship you are getting what is in effect a space transport ship that can be reused and land on the moon or mars…

    What exactly is there to recommend SLS again? SLS is literally just a pork barrel program to a government contractor.

  9. At $1 Billion per SLS flight, no commercial space tourist corporation could afford to blow that kind of money on a single launch.

    Not going to happen.

  10. In the 2018 presentation he claimed the cost per flight will be cheaper than the Falcon 1, the little one that only lifted one ton that he doesn’t make anymore!! That had a flight cost of only $7 milllion (which with 150 tonnes payloads would be about $22 per pound launched!!!). Both of these amazing figures (cost of build and cost of launch) will not be realized until mass production and a rapid launch cadence is achieved but still! I just look at the speed of construction and the relatively small size of the crew and say that it has to be much less than $100 million for the prototype, but that is only a guess. Exciting times!

  11. The Space Launch System’s primary advantage will be in its ability to deploy very large and heavy objects to LEO such as large microgravity and artificial gravity space habitats and large pressurized habitats destined for the lunar surface or for the surface of Mars. No other launch system (not even the Starship) will come close to the SLS capability to deploy very large diameter space structures to LEO.

    There’s going to be a boom in space tourism over the next 10 to 30 years. But wealthy tourist will need large and comfortable pressurized accommodations to go to. So, IMO, large pressurized habitats will probably be the biggest money makers as far as the space industry is concerned over the next 10 to 30 years.

    The SLS should be able to deploy at least two to four large (8.4 to 12 meter in diameter) pressurized habitats to LEO– with a single launch. And such habitats could be easily redeployed almost anywhere in cis-lunar space or within the inner part of the solar system using propellant depots. Charging tourist less than 10% of the cost of traveling into space for up to ten days of lodging at a large space habitat could make each habitat deployed several hundred million dollars a year.

  12. Cost per rocket. Falcon 9’s propellant tanks are built out of aluminum-lithium alloys, the interstage is carbon fiber composite, the heatshield covering the octaweb has titanium and inconel. Those all require special tooling such as Friction-Stir Welding machines for the Al-Li parts, CF layup machines, etc.

    And those materials are more expensive than Starship’s 301 Stainless Steel, which is straightforward to work with– SpaceX had hired water tower welding workers from Caldwell Tanks to build Starship mk1 in Boca Chica, and one can probably safely say those water tower workers have never built a spacecraft before.

  13. Jeff gets there with his existing lunar lander, launched on Musk rocket if cheapest. His contract to study lunar H production gets him ahead of everyone else, where he stays as he follows O’Neill plans and saves the world by expanding it, starting with Space Solar Power. Musk is trying to find a way to make money on Mars, which, being a planet, is not the right place to have an expanding technological civilization. Nor is the Earth.

  14. If they did not lose it then it would only cost a few tens of millions of dollars. I think they would attempt it later in 2020. This would likely let SpaceX takeover all of the SLS missions and the moon program.

    It would be interesting to know how much the Starship would cost. Certainly the current prototype did not cost much more than “a few tens of millions of dollars” so even if it fails on a moon landing attempt it would not be catastrophic financially for Elon and would not be a total loss for his credibility nor data gained. And there is a high chance of success. He said at one point there is a pathway to getting the Starship down to the cost of a Falcon 9 which is pretty amazing.

  15. “The two would then dock and the upper stage ignited to send Orion to the moon.
    Bridenstine got stopped by Senator Shelby of Alabama.”
    Elon should bight the bullet, set up a Starship factory in Alabama and thus bring Shelby on his side. Sadly, Elon probably can’t compete with the amount of pork Shelby gets from NASA’s SLS. One day he could but that will be too late regarding SLS

  16. How does Musk plan to save the world? Last time I checked he was going to Mars. O’Neill has won. ISRU is starting, after 40 years of Zubrin idiocy.

  17. This is an error from Bridenstine. I don’t see the same comments when Boeing makes anouncement of developments other than the capsule…

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