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January 13, 2011

NASA HLV (SLS) and Congress

The tragi-comedy of the unnecessary pork rocket continues with the report delivered this week, which says that when congressional porksters decided to play rocket scientists and mandated an SDV design by law, they come up with a plan that is impossible in time or budget. The commentary is a riot.

Now of course DIRECT people will cry that if NASA built their design from the beginning, instead of the retardo corndog rocket Griffin made them build, they would've been half-way there by now, and 2015 service date would have been assured even with the old budget. They may even be right. DIRECT made lots more sense than Ares. But all that misses the main point (maybe intentionally): the nation already has perfectly good rockets in Atlas and Delta (and now Falcon). The one-shot capacity of 100+ tonnes is not needed when 90% of what you lift is propellant anyway!

Not that anyone in Congress actually wanted to accomplish anything in space. They just want "jobs". And when they noticed that NASA might just start accomplishing something after Obama's cancellation of Constellation, they rushed into action and passed a law prohibiting NASA from doing it. And now NASA's report says the law cannot override reality. That is the gist of it.

UPDATE: In Rand's post, Keith Cowing is quoted as this:

During its recent deliberations the HEFT II activity look at a variety of scenarios, reference missions etc. One of them, DM1, actually meets the costs and schedule specified by Congress. DM1 entails creation and use of an in-space propellant depot and refueling capability. It also makes use of EELVs and other commercial launch assets. But forces within NASA ESMD personnel – led by Doug Cooke – have purposefully sat on such ideas and have made certain that they were scrubbed from presentation charts and reports to Congress and other “stakeholders”. Charlie Bolden is aware of this tactic.

UPDATE: Amazing quote on Spaceflight Now:

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who flew aboard the shuttle in 1986 and who played a major role in adding the near-term requirement to build the new launch systems, said in a statement late Wednesday that NASA's answer was not good enough.

"I talked to (NASA Administrator) Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016," Nelson said late Wednesday. "And, NASA has to do it within the budget the law requires."

This is quite funny really. First of all, note that SpaceX developed Falcon 9 since 2005, or 5 years, on a budget of 500 million give or take, minus Dragon and Falcon 1. So, I can see what Senators are thinking. NASA receives 20+ billion each year, of which half goes to ESAS. Over the period of 5 years that is 50 billion, or almost exactly 100 times more money than SpaceX spent over the 5 year period (same as 2011 to 2016), and they produced a working rocket. If SpaceX can build a rocket in 5 years, surely NASA could do it too (100 times more money is the usual government overhead)! Where is the catch?

Of course the NASA SLS is, 10 times bigger than Falcon 9 (100t vs 10t class). One would think that explains things. But just to make it all even more funny, SpaceX came forward with a proposal for a next-generation Falcon. Basically Musk said: "Look guys, it's clear that you're effin impotent and incapable of building rockets. But you have money. How about you give us a small part of your money, like maybe 5 billion, and we'll give you a rocket that is every bit as good as your SLS fantasies, by 2016. You keep the remaining 45 billion and pretend doing something useful, I dunno, some telescopes or rovers or whatever, and don't interfere. Then, everyone's happy, even Congress." NASA is considering (SpaceX is one of the 13 companies mentioned above).

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at 10:30 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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