Over $30 Billion and 33 Years to Turn Space Shuttle Components into a Super Heavy Lift Rocket

Over $30 Billion and 33 Years to Turn Space Shuttle Components into a Super Heavy Lift Rocket

Brian Wang |
September 21, 2019 |

In August, 2019, SLS (Space Launch System) managers for Boeing and Northrop Grumman gave that timeline at an aerospace industry forum. Boeing is in charge of assembling the rocket’s core stage, and Northrop Grumman is building the big solid-rocket boosters that will provide most of SLS’s lift off the launch pad.

The SLS is a Space Shuttle rocket stack without the orbiter. It will have taken over $30 billion and 33 years to make an expendable Space Shuttle rocket stack without an orbiter.

We will spend another $6 to 8 billion over the next two to three years to get to the first unmanned test flight. This mission could be done with less than $1 billion and two SpaceX Heavy launches. The SpaceX Heavy has already flown three times.

Two SpaceX Falcon Heavies could launch the Orion capsule in 2020 and complete the mission for $5 billion lower cost and probably one year sooner.

Exploration Mission 1 is going to use the SLS to launch the Orion, its Service Module, and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) into orbit around the Earth. SLS separates from the components at 157 kilometers. Orion operates independently, and the ICPS propels the craft towards the Moon. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy could put the Orion and its Service Module into GTO. This would be closer to the moon. The Orion Service Module would be able to complete the trans-lunar injection maneuver with enough propellant in reserve to perform any necessary course corrections. A second Falcon Heavy would be needed to bring the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage to join it to the Orion in order to have the fuel needed to slow down and enter lunar orbit.

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Five major SLS components have been joined for the first time this week. NASA finished assembling and joining the main structural components for the largest rocket stage the agency has built since the Saturn V that sent Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Engineers at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans connected the last of the five sections of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. However, they have not inserted the rocket engines and have not completed other assembly.

The next step is the so-called “Green Run” test where the assembled core stage of the rocket is fired in a test stand to see how it performs. The core is expected to be finished at NASA’s assembly plant near New Orleans and ready for the Green Run by the end of 2019. It will be shipped by barge to the Green Run test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center where it will take another few months to set up the test. “We’ll probably fire it off in the second or third quarter of (2020),” Boeing SLS team lead Robert Broeren told the same conference.

It will take still more time to assess the test and get the SLS core to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center. “From (arrival at Kennedy), with the integration of Orion, wet dress rehearsal and that sort of thing, there’s probably two quarters, maybe two and a half quarters, of work to get to a launch date,” he estimated. “So, most likely early in 2021. It could happen earlier, it could happen later.”

Based upon the history of the SLS, Nextbigfuture would make bets on later than early 2021.

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The first SLS launch dubbed Artemis 1 will send an uncrewed Orion capsule around the Moon on a three-week journey. The second launch, Artemis 2, will send astronauts aboard Orion on the same journey.

“If Artemis 1 launches no later than mid-2021, there will be no impact to Artemis 2,” Bridenstine told a senator this month who questioned the program’s schedule and cost.

Robert Zubrin described his work on the Ares team in 1988 that made the design for what became the SLS (Space Launch System). The thinking was that the Ares would be flying by 1994 as it was only the Space Shuttle stack without the orbiter.

Robert Zubrin described the 1988 work on the Ares which became SLS.

The RS-25 is the engine that powered the space shuttle during 30 years of operation. The RS-25 is one of the most tested large rocket engines in history, with more than 3,000 starts and more than 1 million seconds of total ground test and flight firing time. The SLS Program has an inventory of 16 RS25 flight engines, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California.

ASA Space Launch system is reusing and modifying Shuttle rockets and facilities. SLS and Orion will cost the United States more than $30 billion dollars before it has completed a single full launch. This will go over $40 billion by the time the system is ready to launch NASA astronauts.

$14 billion has been spent on the rockets between 2011 and 2018. This does not include billions more spent refurbishing and modifying aging Saturn and Shuttle-derived launch infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center.

Orion’s development has cost the U.S. about $16 billion since 2006. $4-6 billion more will be spent between now and 2023. This does not include the costs of production and operations once development is complete.

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The Orion space capsule is NOT capable of landing on the Moon, much less Mars.

SOURCES- NASA, Robert Zubrin

Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

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