SLS Rocket Races to Complete a First Launch Before Future Missions Are Lost

NASA is now targeting Saturday, Jan. 16, for the final test in the Green Run testing series for the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will launch the agency’s Artemis I mission.

The latest US spending bill allows NASA to not use the SLS for the Europa Clipper space mission. If NASA determines an SLS is not suitable for Europa Clipper, NASA can then conduct a “full and open competition” for a commercial alternative. This basically means that NASA can use a SpaceX Falcon Heavy or SpaceX Super Heavy Launch Vehicle.

Europa Clipper is a mission to orbit around Jupiter and make multiple flyby maneuvers near Europa, an icy world that many scientists believe has a warm ocean under the ice layer. The Europa Clipper should be ready by 2024. The SLS will not be ready to launch the Europa Clipper until 2026 or later. The SLS still has several Artemis moon missions. The SLS would have to actually complete its first launch and a few other missions. There are also concerns that SLS is not compatible with aspects of the Europa Clipper.

Using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy would save over $1.5 billion for the launch and would save storage costs waiting 2 years or more for the SLS rocket.

SOURCES – NASA, Space News
Written by Brian Wang,

24 thoughts on “SLS Rocket Races to Complete a First Launch Before Future Missions Are Lost”

  1. SLS and Orion are work programs funded by Senate to maintain jobs in their States, and them in their Senate seats. It’s been a primary role of NASA since Apollo and is unlikely to end soon unless the whole way NASA and government programs are funded is radically changed. To be fair to NASA, they do also deliver some science programs, and they have enabled SpaceX to evolve into a capable company.

    In the post SpaceX world, Zubrin laid out a practical plan for returning to the moon at a fraction of the cost of Artemis as currently designed. Use a mix Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 combined with a set reusable lunar landers capable of travelling from LEO to the lunar surface and back to LEO. No lunar gateway, no heavy Orion, and no SLS. All the Artemis development funding is directed at the new lunar vehicle and equipment for lunar surface operations. Start with LEO refuelling and eventually supplant with lunar refuelling. Once the base is established along with lunar refuelling, crew rotations can be accomplished with only F9 launches and LEO transfers between Crew Dragon and Lunar Lander.

    The Zubrin plan or something similar, still leaves plenty of scope for NASA work programs and Senate “benefits”, but killing off SLS would probably prompt a call for some other expensive boondoggle for the impacted facilities.

  2. SLS is a remnant of an era when govt $$ was to (figuratively) prime the space launch industry's pump until private enterprise could emerge, take over and drive growth. (Same principal applies to emerging economies as detailed in Daniel Yergin's book 'The Commanding Heights'). The trick is govt needs to know when to let go of the priming (i.e. SLS) and allow private enterprise to take over and flourish.

  3. "Especially in the aerospace industry." Not just the space industry but especially defense and really every other government run program as well. Your lobbying dollars (aka corruption) hard at work.

  4. That got me thinking. How advanced would the deep space probes, the rovers and scientific programs be if it would have been run by Tesla and/or SpaceX?

    Think hundreds of space telescopes of enornous size, dozens of missions to every moon in the solar system, rovers on Maras and the moon to the point where you would need a scrap yard just to take care of old units…

  5. But the rational thing to do now, would be to cancel the SLS and pour the money into more advanced rocket technologies, such as the nuclear-salt water rocket or advanced ion drives, right? But somehow, mysteriously, I don't think the SLS will be cancelled…

  6. I have no doubt ULA told NASA it would have been cheaper . Until of course they experienced cost overruns, which somehow the major govt contractors always seem to encounter. Especially in the aerospace industry.

    I think whether Delta IV would have been cheaper or not is kind of moot. Nether can compete cost wise with Space X. That's not their fault though. They are both viable launch vehicles built under govt contract according to NASA specifications. That's my point – they were conceived and built on the basis of a govt program, and not as a product to be competed in the free market. Hence, as I said to Combinatorics, they are/were viable systems in their day because they met the NASA specifications for govt contracted launch vehicles. But now that Falcon Heavy and Starship are here, that day is over.

  7. DOD does not have much interest in SLS. They have ULA on retainer to maintain a second launch provider, next to SpaceX.

  8. Delta IV Heavy was pretty capable. There were studies by ULA on how to use their LVs for a lunar architecture. Would have been cheaper than SLS.

  9. Europa Clipper being freed is the thin edge of the wedge to kill off SLS. Senator Shelby made SLS his personal molehill, and he should face the consequences of trying keep a zombie contractor army alive by pilfering resources from other endeavors.

  10. That's not fair. NASA might be in a 50 year slump as far as manned missions and launch capability are concerned, but they still do the best stuff as far as deep space probes, rovers and actual scientific missions are concerned.

  11. SLS was never meant to be a market competitor. It, or perhaps it is more accurate to say the Constellation Program (and the Ares rocket) which was its predecessor, was created at a time (2005) when there were no super heavy launch vehicles produced by the market. SpaceX was in its infancy (created in 2002) and all super heavy lift rockets were produced by govt space programs, i.e. the ESA's Ariane rocket.

    Is SLS a dinosaur? Absolutely. But to say that it would have been dead decades ago simply isn't accurate. There was nothing for it to compete against in 2005 and hence there's no basis to say it wasn't a viable launch vehicle at the time it was conceived.

    Is/was SLS alive, to use your phrase? Certainly it was until SpaceX launched the first Falcon Heavy in 2018. That launch is likely the point at which SLS became untenable. As SpaceX launches more heavies and puts the Starship into space, it will become indefensible.

    Had Space X put a Falcon Heavy into orbit in 2005 then neither Constellation nor SLS would have ever been created. The reality though is that took SpaceX 16 years before it could produce a heavy lift rocket and get it into space!

  12. SLS is not a market competitor. If they were they would have been dead decades ago. SLS remains because its continued existence is totally independent of any market forces.

    SLS doesn't exist to launch, it exists to not launch. How does the market kill that which was never alive and yet lives?

  13. There's no case for NASA to keep an "independent" launching capability.

    DOD yes because DOD needs to launch satellites that actually are needed.

    I love space exploration but I am not aware of anything that NASA is launching that is an absolute "must have" for launch. NASA went a decade without the ability to put people in to space and used Russian rockets.

    But you seem to be aware of a "good case" that necessitates spending an extra $60 billion for a spare rocket. What is the good case that justifies keeping this program alive?

  14. Why? Because they now have a multi-decade history of that model being incredibly expensive, extremely slow and not very safe? NASA hasn’t EVER built anything itself so it never had an “independent launching capability”. It had a model of assembling different contractors under direct political pressure rather than contracting with a single responsible provider.

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