Why not give it to Lockheed instead? I bet both of them can come in 10 years late and 500% over budget.
Who in their right minds would give either Boeing or Lockheed a contract these days?
NASA and Boeing have inked a key contract that should see agency's Space Launch System take to the skies in 2017. Under the $US2.8 billion contract, the aerospace giant will be building the core stage of the space giant: the Space Launch System will stand 212 feet (more than 64 metres) tall, and will be powered by a …
Oh, I don't know - perhaps a risk-averse government department who, whilst fully aware that Boeing, Lockheed et al have a nasty habit of swallowing up the tax dollars, also know that these guys have a track record of actually building heavy-duty spaceworthy vehicles.
It would also be political suicide for NASA to go out and do something like Commercial Crew programme with something like this. It's just too much money NOT to have it funnelled back into some Senator's back garden.
Explosion, because it's Rocket Science, innit. And there's no Kerbal icon available.
Shuttle engines and solid boosters. Yikes on the solids. I thought lately, that solids would prevent the beast from being man-rated.
It's real pity that there's no copy of the Saturn V engine prints. One would think there should be a set somewhere but back then, I guess terms of a contract were not ignored for "just in case" reasons. It was even more surprising that none went to the National Archives.
Which begs the question.... why didn't they go with the F1? That thing worked.
Raises the question.
Begging the question is a rhetorical device where you try to ask (/ verbally coerce) your listeners to assume that your point of view (a potential answer to the 'question'), is a given and can be assumed; when in fact, it cannot.
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"Solid rocket booster design decisions, specifically in regard to containing combustion, contributed to the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the death of its crew (though Challenger's destruction was more a failure of NASA management than of technology)." ref
I thought it was the decision to construct solid rockets in segments, leading to a failure in one of the O-rings that caused the destruction of the Challenger. A design decision necessitated by having to make the rockets out-of-state in order for the certain politicians to sign off on finances.
It's an urban legend that the blueprints of the Saturn V and F1 engines disappeared after the end of the Apollo program. In fact, every scrap of engineering records was kept.
The issue with simply rebuilding F1s from the original design wasn't the lack of blueprints, but rather of skilled labor. The F1s required a fearsome number of extremely sophisticated hand welds made by master welders. Each one was slightly different from all the others, as engineers made small hand tweaks to each. (For example, early prototype F1 engines had a nasty habit of tearing themselves apart because the hot combustion gasses would start swirling in the combustion chamber, setting up shock waves that would build until the engine failed catastrophically. The engineers solved the problem by adding baffles to the injector head to prevent the gases from swirling, but, lacking tools to model the combustion and design the appropriate baffling, they simply experimented until they found designs that worked.)
It's the institutional knowledge, not the blueprints, that were lost.
@Mark 85: "It's real pity that there's no copy of the Saturn V engine prints"
"One urban legend holds that key "plans" or "blueprints" were disposed of long ago through carelessness or bureaucratic oversight. Nothing could be further from the truth; every scrap of documentation produced during Project Apollo, including the design documents for the Saturn V and the F-1 engines, remains on file" ref
The crowning achievement of the Apollo program was the Saturn-5 rocket. Werner did a really good job on that!
Everyone notes that when Apollo 8 rounded the moon in December 1968, the USA had won the space race. Finishing on time with Apollo 11 was almost anti-climatic. Exciting, yes, but almost a foregone conclusion.
A new rocket will put the USA back in space properly. I'm all for it!
Main SLS site:
Pretty rocket art:
Not so sure the solids idea is that bad if it reduces the cost per launch. Okay, they can't be shut off, but they can be jettisoned pretty quick if needed, and they won't hit anything while they run free. And the lack of moving parts is a big reliability factor.
The main stack looks fairly orthodox, should get the job done. Hope Boeing doesn't screw it up...
it still amazes me that this happens I bet Boeing spent > 100 million lobbying government for this. Anyone in their right mind would put this to SpaceX under a fixed price with progress payments the same way any normal company does deals. Instead it will cost more than the 8 bil$ and arrive late in fact I would put money that Falcon Heavy has lifted put a man on the moon and landed back on earth ready for re-use before SLS is ready. If I wanted to take a small risk I could even put money that SpaceX has put over 30 ton of payload on mars before SLS is ready.
As for Solid fuel I don't see how that future proofs the design, unless they are going to use the new hybrid solid-liquid fuel developed in New Zealand.
I thought they shut down the Shuttle program to hand off to the private sector now only to spend more on the Public funded SLS program.
They haven't proven themselves at all. They don't have the Falcon Heavy design complete, let alone built, they haven't done anything man rated yet, let alone safely delivered men into space. They are years away from competing for a contract like this, and NASA will want to see proof that they can do it, not just promises.
In another few years after they have done these things I definitely want to see SpaceX in the running for this type of contract, as I imagine that Boeing and Lockheed Martin will suddenly find ways to build rockets a lot less expensively than today. But given how risk averse NASA is it is hardly a surprise they don't want to take a flyer on an unproven company to save money, and risk getting sat down in congressional hearings for a few months trying to defend the decision if it "blows up in their face" (pun intended)
As far as slideware goes the biggest rocket ever to be planned is still Energia in its Vulcan configuration (175 metric ton to LEO). That is 45 tons more than this. Energia was successfully tested in its Polyus (4 strap-ons, satellite payload) and Buran (4 strap-ons, shuttle payload). From that to Vulcan is just one step - attach the extra 2 boosters. The components from that are proven too - the engines used in the Energia (with some modifications) lift Zenit (Russia) and Atlas (USA) rockets into orbit till this day.
Otherwise, the SLS design is clearly guided by one single thought - "No Russian components". However, instead of licensing indigineous USA tech from Elon Musk, the SLS team quite clearly prefers to go technologically backwards to the days of the shuttle launcher design. It is a technological step backwards. It can bet that it will be both more expensive to run and more expensive to build than the next Ariannes or anything Elon or the Russians have in the queue. All in all - a typical government handout.
Thanks for the energia ref, I had a strong suspicion this wasn't "the most powerful".
> "No Russian components"
Given the way Russia's behaving right now, I can see the sense of it. Totally.
> SLS team quite clearly prefers to go technologically backwards to the days of the shuttle launcher design. It is a technological step backwards
This I'm not so sure this is a bad thing. Old tech is tested and its limits and abilities better known. Why do you think this is bad, technically?
Not sure Musk's technique works best for deep space launches. While the modular technique works well for short hops and multiple stages, that initial stage still needs a heck of a lot of thrust. Each additional engine exponentially increases the difficulty of ensuring simultaneous ignition. So it might be that larger engines are the better solution for that sort of surface-of-earth to deep space launch. (I think there are significant issues with the SoE to DS concept and would prefer SoE to space station solution with the deep space exploration pieces being assembled at the station.) Then again Musk might be able to make it work. I also wouldn't limit it to only Musk with the other commercial competitors that are out there, especially for non-defense missions.
But yes, the write up does make it look fishy, like the thing was essentially handed to them.
Whilst there is some waiting to do before Musk proves his rockets are as capable as this one, I really do think his rate of progress is so fast, that even if this is the right decision now (is it? Lockheed and Boeing do have a very good track record with Delta etc), it won't be right decision in 5 years time.
When they do indeed end up following Musk to Mars.
And yet, when that does happen, no-one will be embarrassed they just spend $20B of taxpayers money on something someone else could have done for $5B. I've never understood that.
I don't think simultaneous ignition of a lot of engines is a problem. The Russians have been doing it for years, and the Falcon's hold down means they do not launch unless all the engines are up and running.
Multiple engines means you can have failures in flight and still complete missions.
And of course, there are massive economies of scale in making lots of small vs one big engine.
Finally, the Falcon stages need smaller engines for recovery - the sort of big engines talked about here cannot be throttled low enough to be the primary engine on return. Even a single F9 engine need to be deep throttled for the stage recovery, as they are so light by that stage of the flight.
Solids are kind of stupid for man rated systems (but great for weapon systems, except these aren't made with the full fat nitrocellulose/nitroglycerine goodness of a proper ICBM motor) although they always look cheap on the budget.
As for why you would "award the contract" (as they like to call this "process") that's simple.
LM got the contract for the capsule and due to the Government mandated/sanctioned consolidation in the US aircraft industry to create "global competitors" (the same f**k witted thinking that spawned BAe) there is no one else left to give the contract to.
Now if you want payloads with that, after it;'s raped the NASA budget for another decade.....
Given the sheer volume of skepticism in this thread around this thing, we should have an El Reg Official Sweepstake. With our dear Vultures as book keepers, we could all put down when we think this thing will fly, as dates working backwards from the projected first launch - because let's be honest, it sure as shit isn't going to fly early.
I'm optimistic. I'm going for 3 months behind schedule.
Escape key because there isn't really one when you've got that amount of potential energy strapped to your backside.
Yeah. I didn't really like Florida when I went there, NASA had mostly managed to make their museum / tours of the Cape quite dull, which is amazing given how exciting space stuff is, so no-one would miss it. Plus we get giant mutated nuclear alligators and manatees to revenge themselves on humans for all the horrible things we've done to the planet.
Light up those nukes.
P.S. Can some US network re-hire Piers Moron* to do the launch commenatary. From a desk just outside the perimeter fence, like in the good old days of Walther Cronkite...
*You took him of your own free will. And no, we're not don't want him back. You're stuck with him. We only take returns on faulty items, you can't just change them because you think they're hideous after a few years.
It's the wrong kind of rocket - with their budget they'll be lucky to launch two a year and it'll take ages to do anything.
It would be much better to have more smaller rockets and a reusable crew capsule. Assembling things on orbit in multiple launches would give more flight time for Astronauts and experience in orbital assembly.
How are you going to learn about orbital assembly and evolve new techniques if you just package everything up onto one rocket ?
Unless this is NASA's way of saying that building things in space is next to impossible. They have had the Space station up there for years doing 'experiments' but they haven't managed to build much while up there. This may be NASA saying the only way we will get a rocket ship to mars is if we build all of it on earth in one go.
"It would be much better to have more smaller rockets and a reusable crew capsule. Assembling things on orbit in multiple launches would give more flight time for Astronauts and experience in orbital assembly."
Because a manned mars mission would still need orbital assembly too. Food, water and air for about 6 years? Plus, fuel to make the return trip? Plus reserves? Even the biggest rocket in the world is going to have to make a few trips to lift all of that to a decent departure orbit.
Right, let's do this. The various Senators & Congressmen on the space-related committees want...
to keep highly-trained people in their districts employed, happy, and voting for them.
money to keep flowing to their States/Congressional Districts.
And that's it. Forget a 'grand vision for the future of the American Space Program', forget actually doing anything useful or building anything useful so the US gets this boondoggle.
A very, very expensive rocket, paid for out of NASA's budget and so severely cutting the actual science that NASA could do, which will fly infrequently - once per year is the current plan - with no program that it can serve, no purpose that it can efficiently fulfill.
While the private sector (yes, SpaceX, who didn't see that coming?) is due to introduce a rocket that will carry roughly 75% of SLS's initial payload for less than 150 million dollars, just over 10 times cheaper than the 1.6 BILLION dollars a pop SLS.
And the new President in 2016 (or more likely his/her staff) will look at the costs (high), the flight rate (infrequent) and the benefits (few) and will probably cancel the whole thing. But those jobs building something not-very-useful-and-horribly-expensive have to be saved so...
Design something else, start to build something else, cancel it later. All money down the toilet but hey, the politicians will still have their jobs so that's a good thing, right?
It's only a fiasco if the US actually has to attack somebody who could pose a serious aerial combat threat, which is no one at this point.
Otherwise the arms business can keep doing what it does until the US taxpayer has coughed up enough cash for their profits to justify making a few of them that work.
I don't get it. Everyone, even those who prefer spending money on unmanned space probes, more or less accepted, if not promoted, the Orion space capsule + Constellation program development which started back in mid 2000's. In a time frame longer than it took us to go from a V-2 to a Saturn V, and which consumed a good chunk of the NASA budget during the interim, the big aerospace companies working on the project failed to deliver much of anything. The plug got pulled when the expected delivery dates were being pushed back years, if not over a decade, and the emphasis shifted to letting private industry have a shot. Now Boeing and Lockheed-Martin are themselves private companies, yes, but I'm assuming that what was meant by private industry is letting smaller companies propose and develop their own ideas, and then try to sell them, rather than having NASA give out huge development contracts for dream projects. Now that the private industry idea is working, Space X can resupply the ISS with cheaper and reusable rockets which don't use cryogenic fuels, now they want to go back to the old way, and recycle the same type of legacy products which could not be delivered in the Constellation project? I can see the need for a heavy booster, to lift stuff into LEO which has to go in one piece. But how much is that? Wouldn't it be cheaper to, say, launch components for a Mars mission into space using smaller boosters and assemble them in orbit? Or is that not technically feasible? Or are the components all going to be too big for that?
Whilst building the worlds biggest firework ( as pioneered by the ancient chinese.) Would be to take all the small change from the placement of the major subcontracts and pop it in Jam-Jar on the window ledge labelled Skylon..
Can you imagine what Alan Bond and the crew at REL could do with that...
REl are estimating they are needing about $15Bn over 10 years. I mean a proper funding profile that peaks at maybe $3-4bn several years in like real programmes do, not the $Xbn/yr BS and that's reviewed annually rubbish.
Now the choice.
SLS is currently targeted at 130tonnes to LEO (presumably to separate it from any potential FH capability) in 1 shot. While Skylon is targeted at 15tones to LEO
Except SLS may launch twice a year (but probably won't hit better than 1 launch a year) while Skylon is targeted on launch 15t every 2 weeks.
That would be 390 tonnes a year with a 200 flight life.
Which is 3000 tonnes in total per Skylon.
I agree with your Weight Lift calculation and I had thought about that. But it's a bit like terrestrial transport. Occasionally we need a heavy haulage truck to shift a 400t transformer\turbine\steelworks etc. But most of the time we rely on 40t artics trolling up and down the M1. (or an Antonov 225 vs an Airbus 300.)
Sinking that sort of money into a Juggernaut vehicle is a bit of a white elephant, outside of a national project it has no commercial use. By the time it's ready I'll bet Elon Musk has found a way to cable tie a few falcons together for a one off monster lift..
This project is more about keeping the remnants of the space shuttle program ticking over in southern states represented by powerful Senators and Congressmen than any path to a return to the Moon or Mars.
Elon Musk plans to launch his Falcon Heavy this year, instantly making the already obsolete SLS completely surplus to requirements.
This looks like a replay of the Saturn V "ground to the moon" project, where one rocket took everything needed for the trip. Do we really have to do things that way anymore? Docking with an already orbiting structure and building large structures in space are so common now that they no longer make the news. Why not build a mars vehicle in space and boost the pieces with known technology? I haven't worked the numbers, but I bet it'd be (a) cheaper, and (b) less likely to prang.
"building large structures in space are so common now that they no longer make the news"
Name 3 large structures built in space.
(Note that I'm not disagreeing with you about the good sense in adopting that approach - I just don't know that we've done it that much.)
there. Went to the Space Shuttle warehouse, took what´s left of the project from the shelves, bundled it up with a rubberband and sold it as a new thingy to NASA. Not before sticking on new price tags of course.
No they are gathered in the secret basement of Boing Central so noone can hear the popping of champagne bottles and their evil laughter. Looking forward to the doubling of "development" time, trippling of the production costs and the tenfold rise of their boni. Conspiracy? Don´t be paranoid. Go find professional help.
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