Space Launch System Trying to Finish 40 Year Journey to a Space Shuttle Replacment

NASA reports that Space Launch system has a new development baseline cost estimate of $9.1 billion and the initial ground systems capability to support the mission is now $2.4 billion. Those costs are 33% over the last 2017 report to congress which triggers congressional hearings. They now are targeting a November 2021 launch date.

NASA and the contractors have gotten over $20 billion since 2011 for the SLS program. The SLS is an attempt to make a super-heavy launch vehicle out of mostly Space Shuttle components. The SLS costs do not include charges for the same contractors to use Space Shuttle components for the Constellation project. Through three decades of Space Shuttle operation, various follow-on and replacements for the Space Shuttle were partially developed but not finished.

In the late 1980s, there was the Shuttle II program. In the 1980s, NASA and the Air Force worked on the X-30 National Aerospace Plane. The Rockwell X-30 NASP was canceled in 1995 after about $5.5 billion was spent. The X-30 could have had more secret Department of Defense money.

The Lockheed Martin X-33 program had nearly $1 billion in funding and ran from 1996 to 1999. VentureStar was a bigger version of the X-33. There was the Orbital Space Plane Program. The existing Crew Exploration Vehicle inherited some of the components and works of the Orbital Space Plane Program. The Ares launchers were part of the Constellation program. The Space Shuttle program was ended in 2011. The Constellation program was from 2005 to 2009.

The Space Shuttle program ran from 1982 1975 (corrected per Nextbigfuture reader Daniel Ravennest) to 2011 and spent about $211 billion. The companies (United Space Alliance, Thiokol/Alliant Techsystems (SRBs), Lockheed Martin/Martin Marietta (ET) and Boeing/Rockwell) that got fat off of the Space Shuttle program have had political allies sending over about $40 billion on various efforts to develop replacements. The lack of success in developing a working space vehicle does not appear to have been something that really mattered to them.

The mostly reusable SpaceX Falcon Heavy has already successfully flow and can lift more payload than the Space Shuttle. The fully reusable SpaceX Super Heavy Starship has started construction and will have more payload capacity than the SLS. Nextbigfuture expects the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship to reach orbit before SLS.

SOURCES – Wikipedia, NASA, SpaceX
Written by Brian Wang,