NASA Buying Ten SLS Rocket Launches Through 2035 in a Show of Washington Corruption

NASA has provided initial funding and authorization to Boeing to begin work toward the production of the third core stage and to order targeted long-lead materials and cost-efficient bulk purchases to support future builds of core stages. This action allows Boeing to manufacture the third core stage in time for the 2024 mission, Artemis III, while NASA and Boeing work on negotiations to finalize the details of the full contract within the next year. The full SLS contract is expected to support up to 10 core stages and up to eight Exploration Upper Stages (EUS).

SLS is Space Shuttle Technology Without the Orbitor, Failing to Launch for Nearly Three Decades

From 2011 through 2018, the SLS program had expended funding totaling $13.999 billion in nominal dollars. This is equivalent to $15.109 billion in 2018 dollars using the NASA New Start Inflation Indice. This is basically the same Space Shuttle technology that the same companies were trying to adapt for the Ares and Constellation rockets. There has been only one test launch during the Constellation program. The first SLS launch has now slipped to about 2021.

The SLS program has been getting $2.1 billion per year without actual launches. A program of ten launches from now to 2035 will likely cost $4 billion per year. This will be $60 billion. The contract will be whatever costs are generated by Boeing and Lockheed and an additional ten percent.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy has already launched three times. SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches cost less than $100 million normally. Some NASA missions would require two launches of a Falcon Heavy to replace SLS for a mission. The Falcon Heavy could be adapted to have four side boosters instead of two to get the payload capacity of a larger SLS.

In February, 2018, after the first successful launch of the Falcon Heavy, Nextbigfuture indicated that this would be a public test to see the brokenness of US government budget spending.

We see a clearly technically and economically superior alternative cannot kill a $60 billion waste for an inferior and delayed project over the next two decades. We will also see if the US government will try to steal SpaceX’s intellectual property. The SpaceX Heavy cost $500 million to develop versus $18 billion already spent for no test flights for the Space Launch System. Space Launch System will need another $6-10 billion to get to a first mission. Two SpaceX Heavy’s could perform the first mission. SpaceX would be able to handle the various SLS missions with perhaps 10% of the funding of the SLS program.

Space Launch System will now be an embarrassing poster child for government waste and corruption.

NASA Administrator Bridenstine had said that with modifications, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket could carry astronauts on Orion to the Moon if the SLS rocket was not ready. SLS political allies in Congress most notably Alabama Senator Richard Shelby have prevented a $100 million or less SpaceX Falcon Heavy with less than $1 billion in modifications from saving $7+ billion per launch of the SLS with Artemis.

There were 135 Space Shuttle launches. The cost of the Space shuttle was over $1.5 billion per launch. The Space Shuttle was initially pitched as a reusable $5 million per launch system that would refly every week. These promises are all the things that SpaceX is on the way to actually delivering.

Lunar Gateway is a Very Expensive Way to Make Every Trip to the Moon 17% More Expensive and Slower

NASA is also developing the Lunar Gateway. This will use International Space Station (ISS) style modules to build a space station in lunar orbit. The ISS cost $150 billion. Lunar Gateway will clearly cost about $200 billion. The Lunar Gateway will NOT actually improve lunar exploration. It is a system designed to justify SLS. One budget waste used to justify another budget waste.

Going to the Lunar Gateway adds 17% to the fuel cost for the trip to the moon. Here is the analogy to explain the insanity of Space Launch System-Orion and the Lunar Gateway. Let us equate the exploration of the continent of Antarctica with exploring the moon.

We are taking two decades to build special one time use heavy cargo planes. The development has been costing $1 to 2 billion per year. It was based upon old 1970s and 1980s technology. It has still not been test flown for the first time. Costs have gone up to $4-5 billion per year.

Now we want to explore Antarctica so we create a plan to use about ten flights of this expensive and never flown cargo plane project to assemble a system of oil rig-like platforms off the coast of Madagascar. There will be landing pads at this floating platform. This will then be the base of operations to send drones and missions into Antarctica. You are going from America to something you make at great cost before flying over to Antarctica. You could go directly with a vehicle that has already flown successfully.

Ten Already Obsolete Rockets Once Every Year or Two Until 2035 or Later if There Are Delays…Again

SpaceX is building the Super Heavy Starship, which will be fully reusable and have more payload capacity than SLS.

In early 2019, NASA drafted a proposal for five more launches of SLS Block 1B launch vehicles between 2024 and 2028 in support of the Artemis program. These include four crewed launches of the Orion spacecraft and an uncrewed cargo launch of a lunar outpost known as the “Lunar Surface Asset”. The SLS has been proposed as the launch vehicle for the future Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) space telescope, which will have a main segmented mirror between 8 and 16 meters in diameter, making it 300 times more powerful than Hubble Space Telescope. The two competing concepts to become LUVOIR are ATLAST and HDST. It would be deployed at the Earth-Sun L2 point in 2035.

SOURCES- NASA, Wikipedia
Written By Brian Wang,

81 thoughts on “NASA Buying Ten SLS Rocket Launches Through 2035 in a Show of Washington Corruption”

  1. Well, it’s nice the retirement program at NASA’s still going, but I’m thinking it’d be a lot cheaper to just warehouse the designers and give them a nice stipend.

    This isn’t going to be a usable system going forward – this is apparently something that’s gone too far to be ‘allowed to fail’.

  2. I don’t think Mr. Musk would do that to the country that helped with the development of this asset. I do think that it would be very easy to declare the company “critical infrastructure” in order to prevent the transfer of this technology to a country such as China.

  3. And boring machines.
    I want boring machines on the moon.
    This requires number 2, unless you plan to drag acres and acres of solar panels with you.

  4. 1.- I want NTP propulsion. Preassembled units ready to install. These will probably be (corruptly) awarded to Babcock & Wilcox- since they have been the government expert.
    2.- I also want power generation dense enough to kick off permanent lunar habitation and metals production. Allow private partners bid for power slices, and see how long it takes for Bigelow and Bezos to set up shop.
    3.- I want Bi-modal reactors, so that we can begin extracting minerals from Near-Earth Asteroids.
    I don’t care who gives me these things, and care even less who delivers them.
    I want them- NOW.
    Yes, it is a shame that we have to consider the politics of big-money projects, but don’t blame that on me, or America. Take a look at FIFA, the Olympics Commitee, or ITER.
    It’s sausage. And it needs to be processed in the sausage factory. Hate me for saying this all you like.
    It is reality.
    It is fact.

  5. Back before SpaceX was ever conceived, there was a plan to put humans back into space. I am sure that SpaceX will figure into future projects, but they missed the boat on this one. If I had a time machine I would go back and show them the video.
    Do you recommend that we toss another space program into the dust bin and start over?

  6. What ‘nuclear payloads,’ and do you trust Boeing?

    Though for unrelated reasons, their cred isn’t too good lately…

  7. Remember, we retired the shuttle partly because of its operating costs.

    Why *should* anything derived from it be any cheaper? (What? You mean it wasn’t only about the orbiter?)

    But those same contractors must be kept busy…

    NASA never asked for this, after all, they were *told* to do it. And to do it in this particular way, instead of a ‘clean sheet’ design for a heavy-lift launcher. There’s a reason critics call it the ‘Senate Launch System.’

  8. This contract is delivery on a vision decades in the making. SpaceX will have their opportunity to ply their wares when they have a working and proven system. This “corrupt” award of boosters is an acquisition to continue the program to get us back to the moon. You really think that an upstart private company is going to muscle in with an unproven product after we have spent billions developing this?
    In the future- after Spacex has a proven record- I do see the US contracting more work to them, but this national prestige project? Not gonna happen.
    I am a big SpaceX fan. You need to lower your expectations. And it was a bit irresponsible for Brian to go directly to the corruption angle here.

  9. America is relying on one private company to build SLS. If you are that worried about self reliance why not contract SpaceX to build better, vastly cheaper rockets for Nasa/USA to own? I’ll give you a hint…it’s in the title of the article.

  10. If you can point to a link or description of a useful purpose for the Lunar Gateway then link away.

    Don’t just insult others without anything to back your own point of view.

  11. Sprunk and Chris demonstrate the knee-jerk reaction from a significant percentage of the public (even here at NBF). Start talking about nuclear rockets and Low Enriched Uranium, and heads will explode. Guaranteed. And there are enough demogogues in Congress to hitch their wagons to this, purely for shenanigans. This is the reaction that I am expecting. If it does not manifest- I will be pleased.

  12. Yeah. The idea that Congress will not allow any nuclear materials to fly on anything other than SLS sounds rather outlandish to me. Richard Shelby is powerful but he’s not THAT powerful.

  13. The radioisotopes like Plutonium is the most dangerous component of any space nuclear power or propulsion system, which will cause widespread radionuclide contamination in the event of launch vehicle failure. That is what requires a proven-safe launch system. And that has already been flown on “commercial” rockets and will continue to do so.

    Again, 1) there are no laws on the books that bans flying nuclear material on rockets not owned by NASA, 2) there are plenty of precedents of nuclear material being launched on commercial rockets such as interplanetary probes using Plutonium for power in RTGs, 3) and Congress is not likely to ever pass such a law banning such launches on rockets not owned by NASA (there are no grounds for it and it goes against already-set precedent).

  14. Atlas could be used to deliver fuel, if they intend to assemble a large PBR in orbit. Atlas is a fine vehicle, with a very impressive record. But 20 tons to LEO is a little light for an interplanetary rocket engine/power generator which we would want to use for not only research, but for industrial infrastructure (like mining asteroids etc.).
    We may be able to get Starship buy-in one day, but expect resistance from the people who write the checks. It is what it is.

  15. I have not seen any laws passed by Congress that specifically bans flying nuclear reactors aboard rockets that are not owned by NASA. You will have to cite a source.

    In the past, we had payloads with Plutonium aboard such as New Horizons (in its RTGs), which launched on an Atlas V, which was not a NASA-owned rocket like SLS. So the precedent is there for launching nuclear materials aboard what was ostensibly a “commercial” rocket.

  16. I rather like the rust-coloured coating of the SLS, but that is neither here nor there. What is is that it’s the best thermal insulation we can bring to bear on this problem, which is absolutely necessary if we’re doing cryogenic H2(l) as a fuel. Starship’s CH4 allows it to be built out of 301 steel, but you do lose out 100 seconds Isp. Advantages and disadvantages.

  17. Congressional authorization commitees will never allow atomics to fly commercial. That’s not my preference- that is reality. To ignore it is insane.

  18. if you want to fly a payload like a nuclear deep-space propulsion system, you bet a proven safe launch system is the nut to crack. that’s what’s needed to counter public uproar about launching nuclear payloads.

    not saying starship will achieve that since it didn’t even start flying yet, but it definitely has the potential to be a proven safe launch system.

    unlike SLS at 1 flight per year and no way to examine a flown one to improve its safety margins, SLS will never be that proven-safe launch system.

  19. You can’t count all the previous NASA expenditure as being part of the SpaceX costs to say that SpaceX isn’t cheaper.

    1. If the entire Apollo project counts towards the cost of SpaceX, then it ALSO counts towards the cost of SLS. SLS uses old NASA tech even more directly. So SLS can’t catch up.
    2. If we have to discount the FH because there is a risk it might fail, then we have to discount the SLS too. SpaceX still stays ahead.
    3. Nobody else uses this form of accounting. If someone builds a house for $50k, it’s just silly to say “Oh, but we need to include the price of Versailles, and St Peter’s Cathedral, and the Pyramids, which were made before this and so that’s where the tech was developed. So it isn’t any cheaper than my $1.6 million house at all.”
  20. Well, I too don’t want to pay for the report. What the abstract says it’s that the market *has* grown at a rather moderate rate.

    But in their projection opioid a continued slow growth (I assume that is what they project), have they assumed a launch cost of 270 USD power kilogram from the star ship system? Of not, then their projections are probably way off.

    Ar this lower price point more things become profitable. Some things are not yet invented, other are obvious. For instance, what military systems make sense at this lower price point, that are to expensive today? Say that there military 10x their spending..? Orbital defences against tactical missiles? Jamming systems ion a larger scale?

  21. $4 Billion per year is a vanishingly TINY cost for a big nation like the USA. Compare that to the cost of the Department of Defense, or the servicing of the national debt. At the height of the Apollo program, we spend 4% of GDP on NASA. The argument that SpaceX will be cheaper is fraudulent for the following reasons: 1)It is not cheaper. Billions of dollars of US government money was spent to develop the technology and know-how that SpaceX is now using. That is not cheap. In America, government programs like NASA do the heavy lifting of developing new technologies that are too expensive for the private sector to develop, and later pass that technology onto the private sector. This is how we got the 747 jet. It was a spinoff of from the B52 bomber and other technologies. 2)We don’t yet know if Falcon Heavy will ever fly, or how expensive it will be if it does fly. If it does fly, we don’t know how often it will, or how reusable it will be. Safety issues may also ground it. The big problem is not NASA, but the fact that NASA is dealing with too small a budget. NASA should be spending BIG MONEY developing new and revolutionary technologies, like the nuclear thermal rocket, VASIMR, air-breathing first stage rockets and so on, and leaving the already developed chemical rocket technology to companies like SpaceX. The problem is NASA is not spending enough money because the American people and the US Congress don’t understand economics. They don’t understand that spending MORE .

  22. Not from the US, but I’m more worried that the US government might take the next step up and attempts to interfere with SpaceX’s development (such as delaying approvals, etc) to improve SLS’s prospect over SpaceX. Then Elon Musk might say he had enough of the government and NASA and decided to expand its partnership with China to achieve his goal. (hopefully not with full or partial technology transfer)

  23. And neither is Starship- yet.
    But safety is not the nut that needs cracked. There is the bureaucracy which will need to be navigated to get NASA programs aloft. And yes, I expect that Shelby will want his cut. Obcene as that is, it is what we have.
    But importantly- we do not want to rely on one privately owned company for all of government business.
    Besides- eventually everyone will want to develope reusable. China and Europe are already moving in that direction. And although I think the competition is great, I don’t think that they will catch up to SpaceX before he completely locks down the commercial (heavy lift) market.

  24. You might want to read up on orbital mechanics and delta-v budget. It costs more delta-v to send a spacecraft to the Gateway then on to Mars rather than directly to Mars from Low Earth Orbit.

    The Gateway IS a boondoggle for that reason.

  25. The question you need to be asking then is, “What is a safe rocket?”

    Is a safe rocket one that flies only once a year and gets tossed into the ocean after 1 use, or one that has flown dozens of times a year AND can be examined after flight to see what parts suffer the most wear so it can be improved to increase the safety margins?

    The answer to the question is *NOT* SLS.

  26. That makes no sense whatsoever, the Lunar Gateway is meant as either a meetup point to go to Mars or a refuelling point. I used to remember when Brian actually had people who known what they were talking about in the comments but now just a bunch of conspiracy peddling talking heads.

  27. Something similar has been going on with American military aircraft.
    Just read up on the F35 “joint strike” fighter – the program was spread
    across many states to ensure it survived. Sound familiar?
    With space it’s bad because this nonsense sets back space exploration
    literally for decades. But with the military America is putting itself at risk
    from vested interests.

  28. I knew someone would get me for that comment! I meant the hypersonic ICBM steerable glide vehicle delivery of nukes. it could literally be 100’s of other black projects that they are spending the money on though.

  29. It would be funny if the funds were not so badly needed elsewhere. 🙁 Will the kleptocracy never be satisfied?

  30. True, but in context FH is already operational and is more easily rated for human use by NASA standards since F9, from which is derived, is almost there.

  31. “the Lunar Gateway will actually improve lunar exploration.”

    Uh, no, it won’t. It is not a Congressionally mandated project, and it serves no purpose in regards to getting humans back to the surface of the Moon or anywhere else.

  32. Ames and JPL in CA, White Sands Test Range in NM, Johnson Space Center in TX, Kennedy Space Center in FL, Lewis in OH, Langley Research and Wallops Flight Test in VA, Goddard in MD, and of course, HQ in DC. Let me guess, you live in California, amirite?

  33. “The Falcon Heavy could be adapted to have four side boosters instead of two to get the payload capacity of a larger SLS.” This is more easy to say than to do.

  34. As if there isn’t some funding redirection going on with this project. “Charge us for the SLS but make sure your plans are for hypersonic ICBM”.

  35. Check the context – a few sentences later:
    “One budget waste used to justify another budget waste.”

  36. Elon Musk has priorities which may not always coincide with government. We will need government to get NPT and power reactors. BWXT dot com.

  37. They are stealing tech that was most likely discarded, I wouldn’t expect them to have anything truly rivaling SpaceX with that country’s complete inexperience in space besides a few probes and a LEO space station.

  38. Ok last sentence is just wrong, nobody is competing meaningfully with SpaceX otherwise they wouldn’t have their government contracts! As for everybody trusting SpaceX, nobody is saying that, what we are saying is anything SpaceX throws out is more noteworthy and important than this boondoggle.

  39. It isn’t NASA that’s the issue, Jim Bridenstein made his displeasure of these projects known but he can’t do anything about it because he doesn’t make the budget. Congress is what appropriates the money given to NASA, not the actual scientists and people that work there. That is why there are these boondoggles because you have some representative in poor state like Alabama promising industry which isn’t happening, it is basically just giving handouts to people in their backwater district.

  40. It seems he said it right, the Lunar Gateway isn’t the boondoggle, it is the SLS. It’s because you have some Alabamian congressman that wants the sweet seat and Boeing money.

  41. Even if it were to be used for war which is extremely illegal and would cause global resistance, these astronomically high prices are a deal breaker when you can just use a SpaceX rocket that can later be REUSED instead of lost in space. Also there are vast resources in really near Earth asteroids that are worth hundreds of billions per asteroid, so there are major incentives.

  42. Why are Boeing, Lockmart and ATK more “USA”’s own heavy lift than SpaceX and Blue Origin? What possible value does the fact that these companies have received tens of billions for cost plus contracts while producing nothing of significance have that makes them better than US companies that actually have delivered for fixed price contracts?

  43. I know that SLS is very unpopular, and is a perfect example of government mismanagement and pork politics- but our nation needs this. I’ll pass on Gateway, but USA needs its own heavy lift for nuclear payloads, and other items that a commercial carrier may not be trusted with or willing to sign off on.

  44. “the Lunar Gateway will actually improve lunar exploration.”

    Given the context, I suspect that partially edited sentence ended up meaning the opposite of what you intended?

  45. If you allow big money interests to funnel money into the political campaigns of politicians, what do you expect? Also, NASA spreads its spending over a large number of states to get votes in the Senate. SpaceX doesn’t have that spread.

  46. So what? The 1000X capacity was from Starship. It’s 1000X the entire world’s existing capacity including Falcon 9/Heavy.

    If you’re suggesting that China is on the road to copying Starship as well, then ok. But that’s going to take them a while.

  47. Perhaps everyone needs a cooling off period, how about no more SLS stories for the rest of the year. The last thing a drunk needs is a couple free bottles of Night Train Express a week.

  48. I think it is not so much about the geniuses, but NASA is used by the senators to get pork into their states. Somebody has to fund their election campaigns.

  49. If NASA is the main customer then the demand is very inelastic, indeed, because they are glacierly slow even when they all agree on a goal and for now they are much more interested in keeping the dream of pork barrel, throw-away rockets than to ramp up payload development to take advantage of the new launch capacity offered by reusable rocket programs from SpaceX and Blue Origin. I am guessing the Chinese will not be so stupid and their space programs will blow past ours. The main hope is that Musk and Bezos will become big enough and well financed enough to be bigger than NASA and be their own biggest customers. Starlink itself is already going to involve more launches per year than NASA contracts for the next several years. Now they have increased their constellations plans four-fold. Bezos and One Web will have their own constellations. This alone will raise the cadence of launches enough to bring in most of the economic benefits of reusable rockets. If they can apply the same massive cost reductions through mass production on space vehicles other than communication satellites, like planetary probes, landers, space telescopes and such, reducing the cost of these to the point that every and any government and university will want one or even many for their own, then the market becomes very elastic and even the US government will not be able to resist buying in.

  50. Since I’m not going to pay $4,150 to buy that pdf, could you tell me whether their communications satellite section includes the three companies working on LEO internet satellites? Because even with SpaceX alone and their original 12K sats, I think we’re way beyond 4% CAGR.

    Also, do they account for radically lower launch costs, and how that might open up new markets? Or are they just extrapolating the existing trend?

  51. What is it about the SLS that makes it look like it was designed 40 years ago? It just looks old. I guess the sharp angles, the various little attached bits, and the rust-colored paint. The rusty part looking like the shuttle external tank with the shuttle boosters to either side, and the top part reminiscent of Apollo. That just does not look like a 21st-century rocket.

    And of course, it really isn’t, since those are shuttle main engines at the bottom there, and the side boosters really are derived from the shuttle boosters.

  52. In his recent presentation, Musk said that if they achieve their goals then in the near term they’ll easily have 1000X the launch capacity of the rest of the world combined.

    In that case, even if we keep flying SLS, to a pretty close approximation SpaceX will still have a monopoly on the world’s launch capacity. The only way to break that monopoly is to build another big, cheap, fully reusable launch platform with rapid turnaround, and SLS ain’t that.

  53. Power IS corruption. Power addiction IS an addiction. All addictions ARE symptoms of neurosis, or worse. Power addiction is curable with Primal Therapy. Politicians of all stripes take note!

  54. How do you know that the space market is so inelastic? Do you have some arguments or are you just guessing?

  55. SLS will look worse every year to come. If Bezos gets off the ground, it will be even more glaring. Propulsive landing/re-use is breakthrough in that it reduces the cost per kg to orbit. 100% re-usability is breakthrough for the same reason. SpaceX is not perfect, but they are pushing past all others for now. If another company does better, then great. NASA was told by a bunch of Senators to re-use shuttle tech for SLS to keep the dollars flowing to their states. Pathetic waste.

  56. “We will also see if the US government will try to steal SpaceX’s intellectual property.”

    Well, SpaceX did offer it to anyone who wanted to use it, but since NASA did pay for a good chunk of it it’s their decision.

  57. I concur: monopolies aren’t a thing to celebrate.

    Nevertheless, the Chinese will soon follow SpaceX example and build reusable rockets, followed by all the rest.

    The difference now is that space flight is profitable at the current levels of payload launched and costs, but not so profitable if it gets exceedingly cheap. There simply is no need for that much cargo or passengers in space as of now.

    While there was a rich, untapped market for travels between Earthly cities even on the old dingy airplanes in the early 20th century.

    SpaceX is taking the job of innovating, making the reusable rockets others will eventually copy, while trying to remain profitable all along.

    Yes, market will grow if launchers get cheaper, but that market is very inelastic, taking a long time to ramp up and actually require the existing launch capacity.

  58. All this situation will get as ridiculous as if they decided in the 1910s to create the “Institute To Fly People Across the Ocean”, meant to build expendable airplanes that flew only once.

    And then they kept it working and funded after the appearance and blooming of the first airlines, when crossing the ocean was already routine and cheap.

  59. The idea that NASA, the country and the world should trust solely SpaceX for launches to space is also ludicrous. Whoever advocates that has reduced himself to become a fanatic advocate. Perhaps the SLS should go down, but what we need is to continue supporting various enterprises for launching vehicles to space even if one of them is ahead of the others. Everything that SpaceX is doing is common sense, not technological breakthroughs and quite healthily is already being or about to be adapted or matched by other equally good alternatives by others!

  60. Nasa the most wasteful institute that burns through our public tax monies endlessly. 10 SLS disposable rockets at monstrous price and inefficient construction speed. Just to keep the geniouses in a job as they dont’ want to disband the intelligent people of the US. Nasa will be the reason why foreign space angency will win in the end if it isn’t for spacex and blue origin.

  61. And probably 50x faster for Starship SH. That dirtbag Alabama senator is getting away wuth murder, or worse.

  62. The comparisons of frequency of launch, cost and payload brought to space in the same period of time will be unavoidable and embarrassing for NASA.

    But politicians will get their pork, holding on until leaving office and leave the mess for others to fix, which most likely will come in the shape of a quiet phasing off and final cancellation.

    But if the projections NBF makes about payloads and costs are anything close to reality, SLS could be made irrelevant and a running joke way before 2035.

  63. It’s going to start to look more and more ridiculous as SpaceX Starship starts flying. There will be a strange disconnect with SLS launching from 39b and Starship from 39a. Both will generate news coverage that can’t avoid comparing them.

  64. “NASA Buying Ten SLS Rocket Launches Through 2035 in a Show of Washington Corruption”

    Depends on who they are launching in to space.

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