back to article NASA's Space Launch System rocket is on track for August 29 liftoff

NASA's most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, just passed its flight readiness review, bringing it one step closer to meeting a target launch date of August 29.  The flight will be the first test of the space agency's super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle designed to take future astronauts to the Moon by 2025 …

  1. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

    I hope it gets off

    However, how many robot missions to places like Uranus and Neptune could be paid for with that money?

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: robotic missions

      Discovery class missions cost about $500M, so about 8 - excluding a discount for buying in bulk.

      1. Kapsalon

        Re: robotic missions

        I think you took the estimated costs, not the real costs.

        Currently the costs are at <quote from article> " $23 billion and $2 billion per launch"

        So that would be 25 billion after launch.

        Presuming the $500M is correct that would give us 50 missions, again excluding the bulf discount.

        1. Jaybus

          Re: robotic missions

          Yes, but you're assuming one Discovery-class mission per launch. The largest Discovery mission so far is Lucy at 1,550 kg, because they are launched with Atlas V or Delta II rockets. Psyche is in development to be launched with the Falcon Heavy and will have a mass of 2,608 kg. The first and smallest payload configuration for SLS is 70,000 kg. It could potentially launch dozens of Discovery-class missions simultaneously. Sort of like comparing a semi truck to a mini.

  2. Colin Wilson 2

    As someone who can (just) remember the Apollo 8 mission, I’m excited that new manned missions to the moon are finally going ahead.

    We are nearly at the point now that no living people have set foot on the moon. Who could have envisaged that back in the 60s?

    1. druck Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Beening born in the year of Apollo 8 and growing up during the moon landings, Skylab and the introduction of the reusable Shuttle, I had great dreams of future space manned missions, which have come to nothing. It is really disappointing that after 54 years we only now staging a mission equivalent mission to Apollo 8, but not even manned.

      The tens of billions spent on the SLS does not even given us a core rocket as powerful as the Saturn V, as most of the SLS's thrust is achieved by the use of Space Shuttle era solid boosters with extra segments. When the Shuttle came along we thought that was the end to giant throw away rockets, with just tiny capsules splashing down in the sea at the end of a mission.

      Luckily Space X is working on something different and better.

      1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

        True, this mission isn't crewed. But that's because it's a test flight for later, crewed, missions. I'm happy to wait a few more years while that develops, happy that we're well on the way to people on the moon again.

        I agree it's disappointing that it's taken so long for crewed spaceflight to leave low earth orbit again, but Apollo was never meant to be the start of that. Apollo was just a race to beat the Russians to something glorious, which it did, extremely well. Once that space race was won, that was it, the focus was back on the cold war and the shuttle was built to meet cold war requirements of putting spy satellites into orbit. The ISS was only ever about people in low earth orbit, but it has been a learning experience in preparation for long duration missions, like Mars.

        And going back to moon this time isn't just about going there to pop in a flag and bring back some rocks. It's about the staging post for eventually going to Mars. That's the exciting thing for me, that this is all part of the plan to go to Mars, eventually, somehow.

        1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          SpaceX will still win

          But they are going to throw most (=virtually all) of it away. It's not sustainable and, given how much it's cost, will soon go the way of Apollo. I'm sorry, but this may look spectacular but SpaceX has the only viable system in development.

          Still it's paid hundred's of thousands of Nasa bod's salaries, so it's not all bad! And when the Artemis project is finally cut they can all go and get a job at the booming SpaceX. :-)

      2. awavey

        I dont agree Shuttle signalled the end of giant throwaway rockets, because it never achieved its reusability design aims and NASA, ESA,Roscosmos have been merrily launching expendable heavy lift rockets without a care for decades since.

        It was only when SpaceX perfected Falcon 9 booster landings, which many in the space industry thought was not achievable, that was a game changer, unfortunately SLS was already being constructed by then, and impossible to redesign to deliver that kind of reuse, without it costing twice as much as just allowing SLS to proceed plus it enables them to certify human spaceflight to the moon with HLS much sooner than would be possible on Starship, that's why you use old tech, its proven capabilities.

        But it's the last rocket NASA will ever design & build via its contractors, the future is very much hitching rides instead with the new private space companies.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "t never achieved its reusability design aims"

          So instead of designing a new improved Shuttle they went back to Apollo, just with LCDs? The Shuttle could still sustain a seven people crew for two weeks and bring large payloads back - plus the space operations capabilities. NASA stubbornly kept on thinking it had a launcher, instead it had a space workshop, and should have used it as such.

          Sure, it could reach only low orbit and was extremely complex - but couldn't new technologies fly it higher and with less complexity? Couldn't the too many fragile tiles replaced with newer bigger and safer protection?

          At 2 billions per launch this does not look cheaper that the Shuttle, and to operate on or around the Moon to reach Mars it has to become far far cheaper. Otherwise after the first woman on the Moon, the program will end again and for the next fifty years NASA will think about how to to reuse Gemini designs, before switching to Mercury ones.

      3. el_oscuro

        I was 3 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and don't remember it. But I do remember later looking up at the moon, marveling that we had people up there! I hoped that when I grew up, I might be able to go to the moon too. That was in 1972 and it was Apollo 17.

    2. Vulch
      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        The hover text on that XKCD is worth noting, too...

        1. Bbuckley

          That should be sent to all of the "No Planet B" morons.

  3. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    Conflicted.

    I'd like this launch to go well, because I like space launches. At the same time, part of me hopes it grenades itself on takeoff so NASA can finally end this ridiculous outdated tech money pit.

    So conflicted.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Conflicted.

      RUD is a fairly popular outcome among human spaceflight enthusiasts. They want it on Artemis 1 because the later missions will have crews. They also want it to take out the mobile launcher platform. There is only one, and without it SLS cannot launch for Artemis 2 and 3. The SLS for Artemis 4 has a different upper stage that requires a new mobile launcher platform that does not currently exist. That would delay SLS launches until at least 2026. They hope that would divert $4B/year onto a sustainable human rated launch vehicle. (Starship HLS development + 2 missions is $3.9B - fixed fee not cost plus plus plus...)

      I am a bit more pessimistic. I think a RUD would cause congress to budget $450M for a new MLP that only gets used twice - some time after 2026. In the mean time, the other Orion capsules would continue to cost $1.4B/year to gather dust and pass their sell-by dates. Everything else Artemis related would get put on hold and Artemis 1B would launch with a very brave crew.

      I too have mixed feelings about this launch. Success means Artemis 2 flies with a crew in a capsule with a life support system that has never been tested in zero gravity. On the other hand I would quite like a video of the expended core stage smashing into the sea as planned with $160B worth of engines that belong in a museum.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Oops

        4x RS-25 engines are $160M not 160B. Must prof reed maw better.

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Conflicted.

      I too am conflicted on this, but for different reasons than yours. As a child of the 70's who remembers watching Apollo footage on TV, my gut reaction is that it'd be cool to get people back to the moon. Then I start thinking about the reasons for doing it, and become much less enthusiastic....

      Doing it just to prove that the old magic's still there and we can do the whole "land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth" routine? That's really just doing something for the sake of it, so feels hard to justify the enormous expense.

      Doing it as a staging point for wider exploration? That's really just a euphemism for exploiting the moon's natural resources. We need to either stop raping the planet we're on, or at least f**k it up completely and finish the job properly before moving on and trashing another.

      1. awavey

        Re: Conflicted.

        To overcome the technical challenges of what's involved to accomplish it,we learn more about science & technology that could lead to solving many of the challenges we face on Earth, and inspire the next generation, as Apollo did, to become scientists, doctors, engineers and even IT professionals.

        A $50bn launch tag sounds horrendous, but in America alone they spend that much on pet food each year, it's half of what they spend on coffee.

        The US budget is measured in the trillions of dollars, NASA gets about half a penny of every tax dollar the government gets. It costs an average US household $33 per year to fund NASA, that's equivalent to about 4 and a bit months of Disney +.

        Its totally worth it.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Conflicted.

          Science and space research is really worth it - it's not clear that this means the SLS is really worth it.

          eg. Vaccine research is vitally important. So we made a single diamond-encrusted gold LamborghiniPickup Truck and gave it to the director of CDC, so we have "invested" $Bn in vaccine research

  4. Potemkine! Silver badge

    the time and money needed to build the vehicle have far surpassed initial estimates

    Is this intended? Is this a common strategy to have projects accepted?

    Standing 322 feet tall, and weighing 5.75 million pounds

    Feet? Pounds? Miles?

    The Middle-Age phoned and asked for its units back :-P

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and carry 154,000 pounds of payload

      So setting g=1 really helps

    2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
      Happy

      Easy:

      322 feet = 4.4654 Brontosaurus

      5,750,000 lbs = 1738.8487 skateboarding rhinoceri = 299805.6331 adult badgers

      8,800,000 pounds force = 391441.6618 Norris

      as the Register Unit Converter will tell you

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Why is the Norris just the SI unit?

        I suggest the force needed to pull a cork out of a bottle = 2.718 No

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: time and money

      Yes this was the precise plan. When the shuttle program ended it was replaced by the Constellation program. Constellation was designed by the US military industrial complex to keep shuttle contractors on the gravy train by recycling as many shuttle parts as possible into a 'new' series of rockets. Their lobbyists did an excellent job selling this to politicians.

      Constellation was cancelled because it was over budget and accumulated delays at around one year per year. It was replaced by the Senate Launch System. The US senate insisted on recycling shuttle parts into a new rocket because those parts were made in all the states by companies that made generous campaign contributions. The plan was to save money by using existing technology and as nothing new would be developed the contracts had to be cost plus to handle the required R&D. The boosters are shuttle boosters with a different casing material, number of segments, thermal insulation and nozzle. The core stage is the same as the shuttle except there are 4 engines instead of three, mounted on the core stage instead of the payload and the payload goes on top instead of on the side. The upper stage is mostly a Centaur but will be replaced by something closer to the right size real soon now (2026+???). The Orion capsule is straight out of the constellation program - and so far past its sell-by date that bits have already failed.

      Change orders have kept the gravy train running as intended for years but now disaster has struck. Some upstart is already operating a rocket for far less than ULA charge and is in danger of getting to Mars within a decade. The SLS contractors a rushing to run up their bills as fast as possible because they can see the end of the line approaching.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: time and money

        And IIRC adapting the surplus, reusable shuttle engines into these non-reusable engines costs more per engine than they originally cost to build

    4. Adair Silver badge

      FFS!!!

      Will Reg please just grow some balls and a conscience and simply use SI units across the board.

      Failing that: brontosauruses, groats, chains, football pitches, and whatever the hell you like all the way.

      Please!

      1. awavey

        Re: FFS!!!

        I thought El Regs SI unit of choice was London Buses, or olympic swimming pools, or were those the old days :(

      2. Nik 2

        Re: FFS!!!

        Use of US units generally indicates a straight copy/paste from the press release, especially where the imperial measurement would usually be expressed in tonnes.

        1. Joe W Silver badge

          Re: FFS!!!

          ... and ElReg used to be more enthusiastic about this stuff.

          (but really, US units in an article aimed at an international [i.e. from many countries that do use SI units, and if you are scientifically inclined you probably know your way around in SI, even if you are from the US] readership of geeks? I can sort of visualise inches and feet up to human size, but with pounds I'm never sure if there is only one system, you know, like stones, pints and gallons)

          1. Adair Silver badge

            Re: FFS!!!

            Exactly, why pander to a system of units used by only a tiny fraction of the world's population when there is a perfectly sensible system that is universally recognised and understood. Geeky? Maybe. Boring? Maybe that too, but at least everyone knows where they are.

            Otherwise anything goes, so let's toss out the equally dull US units and indulge ourselves in olympic swimming pools, double-decker buses, cats, razoos, and anything else that captures our hearts and the zeitgeist!

    5. MJI Silver badge

      Pounds

      At 4.75p per £ that works out at roughly 50tonne

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Pounds

        Sorry 4.75g per £

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "$2 billion per launch"

    Thank God it's reusable.

    Oh wait . . .

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: "$2 billion per launch"

      $2B does not include the service module or the Orion capsule. As SLS will never launch with anything else the actual cost is $4B. On top of that, divide R&D and infrastructure costs of $50B by the number of launches. The only good news is that the construction rate is limited to one per year - but not next year.

  6. Lis

    Oh-oh

    "We're stressing it beyond what it is designed for and we'll see what we learn."

    Is that “We are covering our backs ncase the thing doesn’t work properly?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Oh-oh

      I was wondering why they think a 42 day mission, tracing more or less the path and orbits the meatsacks will be taking in the next launch, how much they think they are "over stressing" it? Just how different is this mission to the next manned one? Anyone know?

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Oh-oh

        I think it's the 42 days duration - I don't think Orion is designed to support humans for 42 days within.

  7. Pete 2 Silver badge

    What's missing?

    > If it all goes to plan, however, the rocket will soar into the sky taking the Orion spacecraft with it

    Hopefully. It would be a real shame after all that time and money if someone forgot to put that capsule on the top of the rocket.

    1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      Re: What's missing?

      ... or it fell off on the way up.

      1. HkraM
        Joke

        Re: What's missing?

        Or the recovery parachutes deploy at launch and we all say "staging".

  8. Adair Silver badge

    If you're going to blow taxpayer's money...

    please blow it spectacularly, insouciantly, and with a truly enormous

    KA-BOOM!!!

  9. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
    Go

    I hope it works

    I remember the Apollo launches, but only seen on TV. I'm already saving for my Florida holiday to see one of these lift off, in person.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: I hope it works

      The memory of standing on Cocoa Beach, seeing, hearing, and feeling the STS-43 shuttle launch in summer '91, will remain with me till my dying days, so do whatever you have to do to make your plans come to fruition, because I suspect a SLS launch will be even more impressive to witness first-hand.

  10. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Flame

    Really good news

    I hope this works. Because once this has launched, the powers that be will finally grant SpaceX permission to launch starship, then we'll really be getting some progress.

  11. MJI Silver badge

    Apollo

    Moon landings were one of my earlier memories, not as old as learning to count to 20 but I still remember them to this day.

  12. MJI Silver badge

    And a UK astronaut

    Goo luck Shaun

    1. Ken G Silver badge

      Re: And a UK astronaut

      The Sheep?

  13. rcxb

    Government handout to ATK

    The SLS was projected to cost $6 billion, and slated to launch in 2016. Now, with overall costs at $23 billion and $2 billion per launch,

    Funny, because the SLS was supposed to be the CHEAP option. At least the cheapest one Congress would accept. The actual cheaper options didn't involve any solid rocket boosters, but Orbital ATK spread enough money around to ensure that nobody was allowed to interrupt their gravy train.

    Honestly, the only thing SpaceX really has going for it is that it isn't tied up in the same political garbage NASA has to put up with.

  14. Astarte1

    Launch Scrubbed

    There will be a short delay: We are currently awaiting the loading of our compliment of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for the comfort, refreshment, and hygiene of VIP Shaun the Sheep during the flight

    Thanks to Douglas Adams, Aardman and the Indepentent 02 August 2022.

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