US Budget Office Asks to Let NASA Save $1.5 Billion Each Launch Without SLS

The US Budget Office admits that the Space Launch System which took expensive Space Shuttle technology and tried to make an Apollo-like rocket. They were surprised that it has take over 31 years and counting to get flying.

The budget calculation is that SLS will cost over $2 billion per launch. The program is ramping up to cost over $4 billion per year and they will only launch once every year or two. This means that they will be well over $4 billion per launch. This does not include the $20 billion already spent in this development program.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy has already flown three times and is about to launch again. The new launch will have the first payload fairing reuse. The payload fairing is the two halves of the nose cone that split to launch the payload. Full re-use of the three boosters and the payload fairing means 90% of the Falcon Heavy will be reused.

NASA Europa Mission. The bill requires that NASA use the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission. The Administration is deeply concerned that this mandate would slow the lunar exploration program, which requires every SLS rocket available. Unlike the human exploration program, which requires use of the SLS, the Europa mission could be launched by a commercial rocket. At an estimated cost of over $2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is complete, the use of a commercial launch vehicle would provide over $1.5 billion in cost savings. The Administration urges the Congress to provide NASA the flexibility called for by the NASA Inspector General and consistent with the FY 2020 Budget request.

Super Heavy Starship Will Be Over 1000 Less Expensive than SLS and More Capable

Elon Musk has indicated that the fully reusable SpaceX Super Heavy Starship will eventually cost $2 million per launch. This will be over 1000 times cheaper than SLS. SLS is still two years from its first flight.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy costs about $100 million to launch. It is already 20 to 40 times cheaper than the SLS. Some NASA missions will require two launches of a Falcon Heavy to complete the SLS mission. There is still a lot of cost savings.

NASA is working on a bulk order to buy ten more SLS launches. This would commit to launching SLS through 2035. This will likely cost about $60 billion.

The Space Shuttle program cost nearly $200 billion. There were 135 space shuttle missions. SLS will be more expensive than the Space Shuttle using the old technology. The configuration is like the Saturn V rocket.

The main justification will be to build a Lunar Gateway station in lunar orbit. This will apply the International space station modules to a station farther away. The ISS cost about $150 billion. The Lunar Gateway will cost over $100 billion.

The contractors behind the Space Shuttle and ISS got a total of $350 billion over the last 40 years. They demand that they deliver less and get the same kind of payments. Senator Shelby and others in congress are enabling this continued waste.