Inspection showed that the carrier rocket SLS NASA is a very big problem


The timing of commissioning, as well as the cost of developing new super-heavy carrier rocket Space Launch System (SLS) that the space Agency NASA plans to use to deliver people to the moon and Mars, may once again increase. Chief inspector NASA, which from time to time conducts an audit of the space Agency programmes, has published a new report, with regards to the progress of development of the SLS, reports the portal the Verge. Problems associated with the project, as it turned out, much more than I thought.

Under the new projections, the rocket, the development of which has repeatedly faced cost overruns and delays in funding, will cost US several billion dollars more than expected. In addition, the booster, most likely, will not be ready for its first launch scheduled for June 2020.

The main culprit for this state of Affairs report calls the Boeing company — main contractor involved in the creation of SLS. It is noted that the company faced serious problems in developing the core stage of the rocket. Initially it was assumed that the debut test launch of the first stage of the SLS will be made in June 2017. Now, however, the most optimistic projected launch will take place no earlier than December 2019. But then it is noted that there is a possibility of postponement of the launch to a later date. According to the inspector General, the main problems associated with “low level performance” by Boeing. The report says that the company repeatedly made an incorrect assessment of the volume of the remaining works to complete the main stage and also how long it may need people.

Since there is high probability of increase in terms of startup delay, the Agency should expect another increase the total cost of developing the SLS. Current projections are that on completion of the first stage forces Boeing, as well as work on the preparation of the rocket for the upcoming launch by 2021, the us space Agency will spend 8.9 billion dollars that almost twice more than the original development budget. And this is not counting the cost of cooperation with other contractors. For example, completion of the major rocket engines used in space shuttles and manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, has cost the Agency more than $ 2 billion.

Delay and constantly ballooning budget have become a common problem for programmes for the development of SLS rocket, says the report. The first launch of the carrier was expected last year, but the debut never took place. Since the start of development in 2010 and currently on the development of rocket NASA has spent nearly $ 12 billion. In November 2017, the Agency had planned to launch in 2019, but later the launch was postponed to 2020. According to expert opinion, and this period seems unlikely.

One of the parts of the first stage of the carrier rocket SLS in the Assembly shop

The company Boeing connects the constant delays in the development of the lack of allocated funding, but in conversation with the inspector officials from NASA said that the point is not about the money. The Agency calls the main problem of erroneous forecasts and estimates of Boeing. The company not only failed to correctly calculate the volumes of forthcoming works, but also provided NASA wrong predictions about the timing and cost of the project. Production efficiency is another issue that the report points out. Only half of the planned tasks were completed on time. The report also highlighted some of the technical and sanitary problems on the Assembly line. My role is also played by force majeure. Tornado damaged one of the Assembly plants NASA in New Orleans, which produces some of the details for the SLS. This delayed the entire production chain for two months.

The report and the ineffective leadership of NASA. The Agency did not require Boeing to provide detailed information on the cost of development stages for the SLS, which in turn did not allow NASA to monitor the entire chain of financial costs. In the end the Agency itself has been difficult to evaluate whether the contractor time to solve the tasks set before him. In addition, the document reports on the abuse of the system of bonus payments – bonuses to company get for quick and effective implementation and fulfillment of the plan. The report stated that such financial relationship between NASA and Boeing look very strange, considering how low was the efficiency of the latter. Between 2014 and 2018, the company spent an additional $ 600 million, trailing from the schedule by two years, but NASA still paid the company an additional 323 million dollars of premium.

The document also spells out recommendations for NASA that will solve all the problems and complete the development of the project. In particular, it is advisable to revise and more accurately determine the time of task execution, and to review the terms of the contract between the two organizations, NASA was able to know exactly how much it will cost the finalization of the booster.

The news source believes that the resulting report data can become a tool of manipulation for those who are opposed to the SLS program. Opponents of the program have repeatedly stated about the excessively high cost of development, and also about the possibility of using space Agency less expensive launch vehicles. These arguments NASA has previously said that SLS at the end of construction will be the most powerful missile carriers in the world, able to output in low earth orbit (Leo) to 131 tons payload. However in this case we are talking about a different version of SLS (NASA develops two versions: Block 1 and Block 1B), the first launch which will take place no earlier than 2024 (if there are no delays). The basic version of the SLS (Block 1) will be able to transport up to 95 tons of cargo in Leo. And this, in turn, many more features the same super-heavy carrier rocket Falcon Heavy private American company SpaceX, its capacity is about 64 tons. The cost of training the Falcon Heavy launch is something between 90 and 150 million dollars, which is much cheaper launch the SLS.

In General, the report is no good to those who support the SLS program. NASA need for big changes in the development program, or booster risks to stay on the ground.

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Inspection showed that the carrier rocket SLS NASA is a very big problem
Nikolai Khizhnyak