Author Topic: What does it take to effectively replace the SLS in NASA's BLEO plans?  (Read 3629 times)

And even if they did exactly what you say, SLS cancellation would happen only if the rocket is considered useless, so cutting its budget would mean cutting useless expenses regardless of whether the money gets reallocated or stays within NASA. And I strongly doubt the former would be the case, at least not completely: it would be possible to cut NASA's overall budget by canceling SLS and still increase the BLEO missions budget, given how costly the program is.

That wouldn't happen. If you cancel SLS without a big government HSF program, Congress will just come up with another. Congress has consistently shown its willingness to dictate space policy for two administrations now in the following cycle:

1) president decides to cut large, govt HSF program. Announces private HSF program to go "beyond LEO"
2) Congress members from NASA districts are concerned about lack of job security for their voters, same for traditional aerospace companies
3) Administration vaguely comes up with ideas, nothing that satisfies Congress
4) congress comes up with big program to protect said jobs in their districts (kind of their job to do that)
5) Administration gives up and agrees, they aren't that invested in reinventing space.

So unless you show a big government program with lots of NEW jobs in their districts, Congress will just come up with a "Son of SLS" and repeat the cycle.

Edit: Also, if SLS "fails" don't see anyone in Congress willing to keep NASA funding anywhere near what they do currently for a BLEO program.

Would it be possible to plan a big government program to build mission elements/DSG elements in a way that appeases congress, or is it really necessary that those plans include a LV? I mean still using Orion, funding missions for Vulcan among other commercial LVs, having the usual contractors build DSG modules and other important mission elements wouldn't be enough for traditional aerospace?
« Last Edit: 02/25/2018 12:27 PM by AbuSimbel »
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Offline Barrie

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Would it be possible to plan a big government program to build mission elements/DSG elements in a way that appeases congress, or is it really necessary that those plans include an LV? I mean still using Orion, funding missions for Vulcan among other commercial LVs, having the usual contractors build DSG modules and other important mission elements wouldn't be enough for traditional aerospace?

Precisely what I've been thinking.  Redeploy SLS human resources on a DSG etc designed to be deployed and supported with existing and near-future commercial LVs.  Possibly no nett loss of jobs, but maybe a mismatch of skills?

As things are,  it seems more likely that SLS and dependent programs are going to be impeded by SX, BO and others creating more attractive job opportunities.  Who wants to work on a brand new legacy system?  (Which might have already been a phenomenon within SX: "Oh, do I have to carry on with FH?  Why can't I work on BFR instead?"    ;))

Offline spacetraveler

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Yeah the short answer is "when there is something more compelling for the workforce to shift to". Has little to do with launch vehicle capability or mission requirements unfortunately. SLS was a jobs program to preserve the workforce and historical type of work at key centers as much as anything else.
« Last Edit: 02/25/2018 04:34 PM by spacetraveler »

I think the real issue here is starting to get clear:
- there's a spontaneous shift in the industry, with SHLV capabilities in development by many parallel entities and without direct funding by the government. This fundamentally undermines the SLS and the foundation of its cost-plus development program, which was true at its inception but now isn't: the lack of private companies interested in investing heavily on SHLVs.

A PPP wasn't conceivable in 2011 because companies couldn't see a ROI, this isn't the case anymore. The fact that many companies are not only willing, but already actively investing in SHLV capabilities at various degrees is undeniable.

So why aren't NASA and the government trying to leverage those developments?
IMO the explanation is that

-NASA and policymakers still fail to acknowledge this shift, and refuse to believe that entities other than NASA can have actual interest in developing the capabilities needed for deep space human exploration.

As an example, this is what I got by discussing with a NASA employee on Reddit. Anecdotal, yes, but if this sentiment was widespread within NASA then it would explain many things:

Quote
Private Industry can build an SLS-sized vehicle. The personal fortunes of several billionaires and corporations are more than enough to cover the development cost and facilities. But that doesn't answer the question of why would they bother to commit obscene amounts of capital on it. Underneath all the marketing, upstart space companies are rather pragmatic. They do not build things they will not receive a ROI on. The only payloads that will go on a vehicle of thay size are from NASA. As I said earlier, PPPs are not magical cost-reducing buttons, they work by leveraging private capital and demand to reduce the cost to NASA. If NASA is the only one buying, you're just shifting the numbers around to different columns.
( https://www.reddit.com/r/nasa/comments/7ywk7g/nasa_spends_1_billion_for_a_launch_tower_that/dukro4s/?st=je4aex45&sh=aa91cfb9 )

There's a clear dissonance between at least some people at NASA believing that investing on SHLVs has no ROI for private companies besides NASA missions and private companies actually investing their money on those systems, clearly seeing a ROI. Those companies see reusability as the thing that makes investing on SHLVs worthwhile, greatly expanding their applications and ROI. That's what it all boils down to: people within NASA and policymakers are still skeptical about reusability, they think there's a good chance reusable SHLVs will fail commercially. Despite SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA with ACES clearly believing otherwise.

So, at NASA, at least some people are so deeply convinced that SHLVs have no real commercial application (and therefore the industry has no interest in funding them), that they refuse to acknowledge the FACT that companies are actually investing on (or even flying) them NOW and believe in their commercial competitiveness. They still refuse to take BFR, New Glenn, New Armstrong, FH, Vulcan ACES seriously.
This, IMO, is becoming more and more an unwise position to hold.

To me, this is a clear symptom of a worrisome disconnection between the government and an important portion of the US space industry.

If widespread, IMO, this is the core of the matter.
Every progress made by those companies in their respective plans is a step towards making NASA and the policymakers change their mind.
This change can no longer be ignored by them and in general by the ones making long term plans for US HSF.
« Last Edit: 02/26/2018 02:21 PM by AbuSimbel »
Failure is not only an option, it's the only way to learn.
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the custody of fire" - Gustav Mahler

Offline AncientU

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I think the real issue here is starting to get clear:
- there's a spontaneous shift in the industry, with SHLV capabilities in development by many parallel entities and without direct funding by the government. This fundamentally undermines the SLS and the foundation of its cost-plus development program, which was true at its inception but now isn't: the lack of private companies interested in investing heavily on SHLVs.

A PPP wasn't conceivable in 2011 because companies couldn't see a ROI, this isn't the case anymore. The fact that many companies are not only willing, but already actively investing in SHLV capabilities at various degrees is undeniable.

So why aren't NASA and the government trying to leverage those developments?
IMO the explanation is that

-NASA and policymakers still fail to acknowledge this shift, and refuse to believe that entities other than NASA can have actual interest in developing the capabilities needed for deep space human exploration.

As an example, this is what I got by discussing with a NASA employee on Reddit. Anecdotal, yes, but if this sentiment was widespread within NASA then it would explain many things:

Quote
Private Industry can build an SLS-sized vehicle. The personal fortunes of several billionaires and corporations are more than enough to cover the development cost and facilities. But that doesn't answer the question of why would they bother to commit obscene amounts of capital on it. Underneath all the marketing, upstart space companies are rather pragmatic. They do not build things they will not receive a ROI on. The only payloads that will go on a vehicle of thay size are from NASA. As I said earlier, PPPs are not magical cost-reducing buttons, they work by leveraging private capital and demand to reduce the cost to NASA. If NASA is the only one buying, you're just shifting the numbers around to different columns.
( https://www.reddit.com/r/nasa/comments/7ywk7g/nasa_spends_1_billion_for_a_launch_tower_that/dukro4s/?st=je4aex45&sh=aa91cfb9 )
...

Naively the ROI prerequisite is true, but evidence to the contrary abounds.  There are billions being spent every year for philanthropic causes.  Libraries and museums across the country were founded by Carnegie donations.  The Keck Telescopes were built by private funds.  The Human Genome was decoded mostly by a private company.  The Gates Foundation is attempting to wipe out the worlds most devastating diseases.  Raptor Engine was built with mostly private funds for Mars exploration and settlement.  BFR/BFS... same. 

Your NASA correspondent, like many others in the public sector, believe that only the government can do all of these things.

"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
-- SpaceX friend of mlindner

Offline Kansan52

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NASA sees the change (helped nurture it). Congress beats the drum (doles out the money).

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