SLS Project is an Out of Control Waste of Money

The four contracts for the Space Launch System rocket’s booster and engine were initially projected to cost $7 billion over a span of 14 years, but are now projected to cost at least $13.1 billion over nearly 25 years. (from the NASA Inspector General Paul Martin published by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on May 25).

NOTE: In recent SpaceX legal documents it has been confirmed that total spending for the Super Heavy Starship development, launch sites, mechazilla launch tower and factories is $3 billion. SpaceX will spend another $2 billion on Starship and launch facilities in 2023.

From fiscal years 2012 through 2025, NASA’s overall Artemis investment is projected to reach $93 billion, of which the SLS Program costs represent $23.8 billion spent through 2022. For SLS launches, NASA entered into two booster contracts with Northrop Grumman and two RS-25 engine contracts with Aerojet Rocketdyne. The four contracts, performance periods, and values are: Boosters—April 2006 to December 2023, $4.4 billion; Booster Production and Operations Contract (BPOC)—June 2020 to December 2031, $3.2 billion; Adaptation (RS-25 engines)— June 2006 to September 2020, $2.1 billion; and RS-25 Restart and Production—November 2015 to September 2029, $3.6 billion.

Given the enormous cost of the Artemis campaign, NASA is exploring ways to make the SLS—which requires two boosters and four RS-25 engines per launch—more affordable by moving towards a fixed-price contract.

Auditors question $19.8 million in award fees for the 11 unfinished engines which were subsequently moved to the RS-25 Restart and Production contract and may now be eligible to receive additional award fees. Faced with continuing cost and schedule increases, NASA is undertaking efforts to make the SLS more affordable. Under the RS-25 Restart and Production contract, NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne are projecting manufacturing cost savings of 30 percent per engine starting with production of the seventh of 24 new engines. However, those savings do not capture overhead and other costs, which auditors currently estimate at $2.3 billion. Moreover, NASA currently cannot track per-engine costs to assess whether they are meeting these projected saving targets.

SLS and Artemis are out of control cost-plus projects. No matter how much money is wasted or how many years of delay there are the companies get to re-bill all expenses and get more profit for more waste.

22 thoughts on “SLS Project is an Out of Control Waste of Money”

  1. I’d like to cancel SLS,but not yet, we need at least two viable rocket companies. SLS went around the Moon,I’m excited to see the next one go.
    I don’t care if it’s 4 billion, it is worth it to me for missions to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as it gets there quicker.
    Next SS launch coming real soon!!!!! Want to see that thing land on the Moon.

  2. Does anyone really think this is isolated to NASA? I imagine such waste, and incompetence is ripe throughout not only the federal government, but also state and local governments as well.

    • You’re right Look up cost plus contracting to confirm more of what you suspect.

      Tldr: the contracts are highly competitive, but the companies are allowed to go over budget, which is where the real profits are.

      It’s the sunk cost fallacy as policy.

  3. We spend more money on bubble gum. We can’t afford to have all our eggs in this one basket. We need to disperse. There are just too many ways to become extinct. One will be chosen for us. We are the last hominid species left. The others are all extinct. One day, maybe soon, we may join them.

    • We most definitely cannot afford to have all our eggs in one basket, but the SLS isn’t it. At 1.2 billion USD a pop and perhaps twenty to thirty months to build, it is not something we can rely on to launch an emergency spacecraft to redirect an asteroid or whatever sort of anti-extinction scenario anyone can cook up.

      Which means we need to have some options to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (and eventually Starship), but SLS isn’t it. Perhaps the government should invest in BO’s New Glenn, or more likely ULA’s Vulcan-Centaur in order to have cheaper orbit capability which is not tied to SpaceX. Perhaps Rocket Lab’s Neutron or Relativity’s Terran R could round out our capabilities further out. But we need to get value for our money.

        • A billion here, a billion there, soon you’re talking about real money.
          The current deficits are planned for trillions, unless war, plague, pestilence, global warming (restyled “climate crisis” when the world failed to ignite), monkeypox (an abject failure to induce fear), CO2 poisoning (actually helpful for carbon fixation via improved plant growth), and nuclear annihilation (the “China Syndrome”- see the movie), all to deflect attention from politically necessary inflation.
          Why wouldn’t the cost of the government’s favoured programme increase?
          The most interesting information would be to see the government support for Mr. Musk’s various enterprises over the last twenty years.

  4. The contracts that NASA agrees with the aerospace contractors appear to be a licence to print money for them. In the Apollo days they worked out of a sense a of national pride. Now its money only. SLS is one accident from cancellation

  5. Isn’t it still true that the Super Heavy Starship can’t go beyond Earth orbit without refueling, and that refueling is so far still impractical? In that case, SLS is the only option, and they are going to use Blue Origin’s lunar module too.

    • I think SLS…if stretched Block 2 style with a J-2 in the nose and little else…could go to the Moon in one shot…maybe with a severable aft engine block allowing SLS to be soft landed…no refueling.

    • Apples and pineapples. SLS is fully expendable, Starship is designed to be fully reusable. In reusable mode, Starship should be able to put 150 tons in low earth orbit. In fully expendable mode, it should be able to put 250. The SLS can do about 77 tons in the current configuration. That is the important metric. Even without orbital refueling, Starship can put into orbit a larger craft with more propellants to go beyond low earth orbit. Like almost twice. And even more when launched in fully expendable mode. If Starship refuels in orbit, then it can take the whole 150/250 tons to the destination instead of the much smaller fraction of the 77 tons that SLS can deliver.

      This doesn’t even count the resent test of the Raptor that reached 269 tons of thrust compared to the 230 tons of the current Raptor 2. If the Raptor 2 can be modified to use that kind of thrust reliably, then it can probably launch even more.

  6. Emergence of China as the only serious West competitor in 250 years in a good thing.

    Why should you/me care who will be dominant or largest economy in 2060’s/80’s or later? If you’re in your 50’s, 60’s or older you probably think you have around 30 years on this planet.

    I am looking at this from this angle – more countries doing advanced(expensive) science = faster progress. China(like the West) is for example outputting a lot of aging science papers. If more countries in the world can afford doing science our overal output increases and we have bigger chance to develop antiaging cure faster, therefore you have bigger chances to see it in your lifetime and live longer, reach LEV. It’s in all people interest(who want to live) to have as many advanced countries as possible, as soon as possible.

    Without it, progress would be slower. As we all know and see, China’s programs are more efficient and faster. We can’t forget that they were almost 100 years behind in late XX century and look where they are now.

    Most people don’t know this, but even in late 1990’s they were in the bottom of the table of the countries (in per capita terms). If I remember correctly in 1998 thet were in bottom 3 poorest countries. US was at that time 1st I think or at least in top 3.

    My broader message is, that as they are getting richer and more advanced, they’re announcing more and more ambitious projects. We as a West can’t just watch and wait.

    I am pretty sure that soon they will announce some new crazy Starship like project (probably slighty modified) and something comparable to JWST. US gov know that gov agencies are too slow and therefore will start giving a lot of money to private companies, especially SpaceX, to develop not only Starship, but future versions of it, more ambitious ships.

    China was first (therefore it has West attention), India will join the race soon, there will be 3 big boys dominating in late 2020’s – West, China and India. Other countries are too small to be serious competitors, altough if they will integrate and act in similar way like EU – AU(African Union with their 1,43B people) can afford space program, big AI projects, quantum computing programs and so on. So if they will be acting more like one country, they may become 4th serious competitor in the future. The same will Arab World as a whole and SEA. Latin America (I hope) will integrate more with the West. Russia is too small to remain relevant and compete on the same level with regions with 7-10x more people. They will soon be pretty irrelevant.

    India GDP is now $13T in Purchasing Power Parity, it was only $8,4T in 2020. In PPP India is growing very fast, many people don’t realize how big India’s GDP already is. Next year they should be at around $14,5T. Most Westerners are as clueless about India as they were towards China ultra fast rise until late 2010’s. India will “come out of nowhere” in similar way as China. It will happen during mid-late 2020’s.

    Africa GDP (PPP) in 2023 is $8,9T. As we all know, India had space program in 2020 when their GDP was as big as Africa’s is now. My point here is, that if Africa want, and act as a whole, they can afford some serious space agency, building big rockets, space telescopes etc.

    Overall, as all regions are getting richer and have more money for tech and science research, we will be developing faster, which is good for humanity.

    • The upside of China doing tech is that tech advances faster.

      The downside is that China is a genocidal totalitarian state, and a lot of that tech is thus in the hands of a genocidal totalitarian state.

      That could cause of minor hiccups on the way to our bright new future.

    • I’ll give you a spoiler based on the wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years: It will probably turn out that if you are in the kind of shape where you have a six pack, and you maintain that level of fitness, you drastically reduce your risk of ALL diseases of late life and probably increase your life expectancy by 20 years.

      • Impossible to maintain that level of fitness indefinitely. And, science says you are wrong. A few extra pounds in your 70s and later increases your chances of living longer. You are less likely to break bones in a fall if you are not really lean.
        My grandfather was reasonably trim…a few extra pounds. But he decided to get real fit and trim to fly back to Colorado for a 75 year, high school reunion.
        I am sure he impressed everyone at the reunion, but a few months later he tripped walking home with his groceries and busted up his hip. That, in large part, lead to his death a year and a half later.

        • Sympathy for your grandfather and I hope he had good medical advice. Standard would have been a little (insufficient) Vit D, a toxic bisphosphonate drug, some Calcium, possibly a statin to afflict his muscular performance.
          He would be very unlikely to have been advised to supplement Vit K2 or magnesium for bone maintenance, and Vit D and zinc to fend off Covid.
          Our 50th reunion was cancelled due to Covid Karens and Bonnie Henry. I hope I last until age 93 with enough motivation to get buff! Hip fractures at age 92 or 93 are generally followed by a funeral within a year, because they demonstrate fragility. If they are not fixed death ensues within a month or so.

  7. In China when they steal that much money, they take them out and put a bullet in their heads. I don’t know what they are doing with the money, but it’s not building rockets. They took an existing engine, existing solid rockets, (mostly) and built a tank. It’s difficult to justify the level of spending they did for so little progress.

    The total cost are also a complete lie. They have been designing things for decades but launching nothing. Oh well, they did launch one recently after spending well over $40 billion dollars. Look at all these programs

    Look at the cost of the Constellation program, which nothing more than what they are doing now. $230 billion (2004)
    Duration 2004–2010. What did we get for that? I don’t know. It appears nothing at all.

    They should prosecute somebody, or at the least cut off all funding.

    At the cost that they have been foisting on us, we could have built a fleet of reusable Sea Dragons and if we needed to launch less mass we could just put less fuel in it.

    Get rid of the ever so touchy hydrogen and go with methane like Musk so wisely did, and we would really have a low cost system.

    I think a large part of our military equipment is in much the same sad shape. A lot of money for a lot of nothing.

    It infuriates me. I’m very pro space program, but if they are going to continue to rip us off so badly, then cut the whole thing to zero and be done with it.

    • No,the Chinese steal like no one else, every walk of life business and defense is totally corrupt. I see Chinese at our Southern border, where they will be free to enter as everyone is,I much prefer them.
      It is the CCP that makes such a mess of things there, although I greatly admire their nuclear power program.


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