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Space Launch System Truths and Misconceptions

There have been a lot of beliefs or perceptions regarding NASA's new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System, that have been stated as factual - but are they?

There have been a lot of beliefs or perceptions regarding NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System, that have been stated as factualbut are they?

We had promised this article would appear yesterday and as we like to keep our promises, we ran a portion of it yesterday. We felt it was important that our readers be able to read the article in its entirety, and so here it is.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — AmericaSpace recently received numerous comments stating that NASA’s new Space Launch System, or “SLS,” was neither wanted by the space agency nor did it even have a mission. It was also said that, under the current economic uncertainty, NASA could not afford this new heavy-lift booster. These beliefs stem from the perception that Congress forced SLS on the space agency. AmericaSpace has sought to seek out the validity of these assertions and whether or not they have any basis in fact.

When we approached NASA, we were referred to the space agency’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Dan Dumbacher. Dumbacher spoke with AmericaSpace for close to half an hour regarding the topics of SLS and Orion, as well as the driving forces that were behind how the agency has been managing its newest human-rated launch vehicle and the spacecraft that will ride atop it. It turns out that one of the most prominent of these forces is something that the nation itself has been struggling with for the past few years—the budget (more on that in later segments).

AmericaSpace: First, let me thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. We have been hearing a lot of things about NASA’s new Space Launch System and we were hoping to gain the agency’s perspective on them.

Dumbacher: “My pleasure. I hope I can help clarify a few things.”

AmericaSpace: Dan, a lot of people are very interested and excited about NASA’s Space Launch System. There have been some things that have been stated about SLS that we were hoping you could help us with. The Program of Record before SLS was the Constellation Program, and it had a very clear mandate under the Vision for Space Exploration, “Moon, Mars, and Beyond.” SLS doesn’t have that. We’ve heard the president say that he wants NASA to go to an asteroid in the 2020s and to Mars “sometime” in his lifetime. There are some folks who feel that SLS does not have a specific destination. Is this perception valid? Or is it inaccurate?

Dumbacher: “The way we at NASA look at it is, the ‘horizon’ destination that we are going to is Mars—sending humans to Mars is the goal that we are working toward. There are a number of different ways that we can accomplish this, and we’re still looking at the various tradeoffs as to how we conduct that. … That’s currently what we are doing right now is to research the various ways that we can send humans to Mars and then bring them safely back home.”

AmericaSpace: It sounds like one of these various approaches might be a stepping stone–type approach. This would mean that SLS would have a number of possible closer destinations (the Moon, a Lagrange Point, or an asteroid). Can you pick one out as an example for us?

NASA image of the Orion Multi Purpose Crew vehicle MPCV spacecraft. Posted on AmericaSpace Image Credit: NASA

Dumbacher relayed how the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System were a duo that would be used to be send humans beyond the orbit of Earth for the first time in over 40 years. Image Credit: NASA

Dumbacher: “Some of the destinations that we are looking at between here and Mars are, obviously, the Moon, the area around the Moon, and of course some asteroids. This will serve to get us ready to go to Mars and its moons. Now, the one thing that we want to make sure that everybody understands is that there is a fundamental capability that we need to have to get to any of those destinations. We need to get crew beyond Earth orbit, and we need to get crew home from beyond-Earth orbit—and that’s the role of Orion. Orion gives us about a 21-day capability; now that is obviously a short time, but what is missing in that is that we will eventually have to develop what we call the habitat module, or ‘the habitat.’ The astronauts would stay in this for the longer-duration missions, and Orion would be attached to the habitat. It would remain ‘quiet’ (essentially powered-down) once we got the astronauts to the habitat, and it would be reactivated once we needed to get the astronauts back home.”

AmericaSpace: President Obama has directed NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid. You might not have picked out which one, but you do plan to use SLS and Orion to send a crew to an asteroid, correct?

Dumbacher: “That is one of the trade studies that we are looking at. As you mentioned, there has been a presidential directive to travel to an asteroid around 2025, and we are currently looking into which asteroid would be most appropriate for such a mission. We actually have some options there—we can either send the humans to the asteroid or bring the asteroid to the humans. We are currently reviewing all of those options. So we are still trying to define what that mission might look like. This is heavily dependent on the type of asteroid, what its orbit is like, and so on.”

AmericaSpace: Any and all of these ‘side’ destinations, however …

Dumbacher: “Are all aimed at making sure that we learn what we need to learn on the road to Mars.

AmericaSpace: A bit off-topic here, but there have been multiple incidents involving meteors and asteroids lately, and this has garnered a lot of interest in NEOs (Near-Earth-Objects). How do you view the role of Orion and SLS in helping us to avoid having Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck save us using a titanium shuttle? Is this part of what NASA is looking into, or is just traveling to an asteroid, or is there a whole range of things that NASA is looking into?”

Dumbacher: (Laughs) “Let me back you up a little bit. We haven’t made any commitments—to any missions. What we are currently doing is, while we are building SLS and Orion, we are also in parallel with that, working through the missions that we are going to conduct first, second, third, and fourth. If we go to an asteroid, depending on how we do it, the whole idea is to learn how to travel beyond Earth orbit. For example, the navigation, how do we get there, how do we work in those orbits? They are different from those that we typically deal with in low-Earth orbit. They are also different than the orbits that the Apollo astronauts conducted around the Moon. We also have to learn about how to conduct communications, command, and control approaches for when we have astronauts so far away. Obviously, as you go further and further towards Mars that round-trip communications time takes longer and longer. We have to learn how to deal with that. We have to learn how to handle the radiation environments and the solar flares that feed into the radiation environment—these kinds of things we have to learn along the way, and we also have to learn how to build reliable spacecraft that can support human life for long-duration missions. This is no small thing to consider when with every minute they travel, home is increasingly further away, and therefore it’s harder to get repairs if something should go wrong.”

Dumbacher stated emphatically that not only does NASA want SLS - the space agency needs the heavy-lift booster to send crews to Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Dumbacher stated emphatically that not only does NASA want SLS, the space agency needs the heavy-lift booster to send crews to Mars. Image Credit: NASA

One of the oft-repeated sentiments regarding NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System, is that NASA did not want the booster. This is obviously factually inaccurate, as just a year-or-so earlier NASA was developing the Ares V heavy-lift booster—when compared side-by-side, the two launch vehicles are very similar. Moreover, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has publicly stated that one of his main priorities – is SLS.

We continue our interview with Dan Dumbacher and he emphatically denied that this belief has any basis in fact.  To the contrary, the message that Dumbacher relayed was that not only did NASA want SLS, it needed it.

AmericaSpace: One of the things that AmericaSpace has seen posted repeatedly and stated as ‘fact’ is that NASA does not want SLS—that Congress forced SLS on NASA. NASA Administrator Bolden already addressed this when he testified to Congress that his three priorities—and I believe that they were in this order—were Orion, SLS, and the James Webb Space Telescope (it turns out that SLS and Orion were one priority, JWST another and ISS/Commercial cargo and crew the third). Is NASA excited about this new heavy-lift booster? The agency definitely wants this heavy-lift booster. Is it correct to say this, sir?

Dumbacher: “That is fair to say. NASA needs Orion and the Space Launch System to conduct exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. All of our studies over the years have demonstrated the need for a launch vehicle that can get significant mass to orbit and can help us cut down on trip times, and we need that launch vehicle’s capabilities to get us beyond Earth orbit, which we have been operating in for a little over 30 years. It has been over 40 years since we have been outside of Earth’s orbit. If we are going to go beyond Earth orbit, then we need Orion and we need the Space Launch System, and that is why you heard NASA Administrator Bolden list Orion and SLS as some of his top priorities.”

AmericaSpace: The next point that we want to address is one that has also been brought up repeatedly, and it is one that most Americans are concerned with—the budget. Sequestration is already causing issues with some of NASA’s other programs. One of the things that has been stated is that while NASA might not be ‘slow-rolling’ SLS, it does appear to be taking its time with the program in an effort to kind of ride out the country’s current state of economic turbulence. Is there any truth to this belief that NASA is taking its time on Orion and SLS so as to ride out the financial dynamic we see today?

NASA Administrator has testified that the Space Launch System and Orion are among his top priorities. Photo  Credit: Julian Leek / Blue Sawtooth Studio

NASA Administrator Bolden has testified that the Space Launch System and Orion are among his top priorities. Photo Credit: Julian Leek / Blue Sawtooth Studio

Dumbacher: “I don’t think that is another dynamic, but I do think that the characterization that NASA is ‘slow-rolling’ these programs is unfair. We are actually working as fast as we can within the budget constraints that we have to work within. We recognize as an agency that there are many demands on the federal budget and we are part of that budget, so we do have to recognize that we have to live within budget constraints. We will not see the budget environment that we had back in the ’60s. So, it’s incumbent upon NASA to live within the budget constraints and that’s what we are doing. Would we like to go faster? You bet! However, because of the national budget situation and the national budget environment, we have to recognize that we have to work within those constraints and that is what we are doing.”

AmericaSpace: There have been several metric-ton amounts that SLS is required to deliver to orbit. What caused those amounts to be selected? Why 70 and 110? Why does SLS have to have that capability to accomplish its objectives?

Dumbacher: “Seventy metric tons is the version of the launch vehicle that we are currently working on to send Orion to orbit for the 2017 mission. Ultimately, however, we are working toward the 130-metric-ton version that is planned to be used for the Mars missions. We need the 130-metric-ton version for the Mars missions. The 70-metric-ton variant is the vehicle that we could develop and have useful payload abilities within a reasonable timeframe and within the budget constraints. So, the 70-metric-ton version will provide us with the capability of sending Orion with crew to the area around the Moon and allow us to be able to work within that vicinity. We are also working on a plan to upgrade SLS after the first few missions to about 105-metric-ton capability on our way to 130. So, from an SLS perspective you should be hearing numbers of 70, 105, and 130.”

AmericaSpace: The one that I think folks are most familiar with is 70.

Dumbacher: “The reason that they have heard that one the most is because that will be our flight-capable version and the one used for our first crewed mission. It’s the vehicle that we are designing now. We are designing it in such a way so that we don’t have to redesign anything to go to the 105-metric-ton capability, because everything is designed to build toward the 130-metric-ton class. We in the rocket business like to talk about things in terms of mass and volume and those types of considerations—one of the things that we are trying to figure out how to communicate better. When you think about it, a Curiosity lander was about 900 or 1,000 kilograms. So, with all her components, 70 metric tons would deliver to low-Earth orbit about 70 Curiosity landers.”

Artist's conception of the SLS launching from Cape Canaveral. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s conception of the SLS launching from Cape Canaveral. Image Credit: NASA

AmericaSpace: That’s a lot of rovers.

Dumbacher: (Laughs) “That’s the message.  A launch vehicle at 70 metric tons provides a lot of lift capability to get hardware to the orbits that we need to get to.”

AmericaSpace: I’m not sure if you’ll recall, but during your presentation at the Cape regarding the future of Human Space Flight, we asked about what type of spacecraft would be required to go to Mars—that it’d probably need to be about twice the size of the ISS. The ISS is about the size of a football field, so if you think about it, you need to have large up-mass capabilities to send such a spacecraft into orbit. Is that what we are hearing?

Dumbacher: “That’s exactly what you are hearing. All of our architecture mission analysis that we’ve done over the years always has shown us that we need lots of hardware to get to Mars, to get to the surface of Mars, and then back home safely. Depending on the hardware used and how you configure the mission, it takes multiple launches. Even using a 130-metric-ton class SLS, it still requires five or six SLS launches to do a Mars mission. In terms of Mars? Bigger launch vehicles are better.”

AmericaSpace: When this discussion broke out on AmericaSpace it became a very heated debate. Before we really got too involved we wanted to get our facts straight, which is why we contacted NASA Headquarters. One of the questions that was asked of us was, ‘If NASA saw that they could conduct these missions less expensively using smaller commercial launch vehicles—perhaps with more launches—would NASA be willing to do this?’ Would you say, ‘Look, SLS is great, but we can do it less expensively using either the Delta IV Heavy or the Falcon Heavy’? If NASA crunched the numbers and discovered it could put the mass it needed up on say six Delta IV Heavy or Falcon Heavy launches instead of one SLS, would you do that?

Dumbacher: “If we could do it for less—that is the key. Our analysis using the best data that we can lay our hands on says that there is a trade off with the amount of payload delivered per launch, launch cost, and also the complexity of on-orbit operations, and this begins to impact crew safety as well. If I start to put it up in smaller pieces, then that means there has to be more on-orbit operations that are necessary to get everything attached. And, by the way, that means that the crew will have to contend with longer exposure time in the space environment, radiation exposure, micro-meteorites, and so forth. All of that starts to play into the equation, so I think that gets lost sometimes in the debates that you’ve experienced. All of the considerations need to be factored into the analysis. It’s not just a cost equation, and, in fact, it takes a dramatic reduction in launch costs for smaller launch vehicles to be competitive from a cost perspective. You have to recognize that it is not just a per-unit cost; you also have to include the infrastructure on the ground to manufacture and assemble all of those extra launch vehicles.”

AmericaSpace: It sounds kind of like the K.I.S.S. philosophy—Keep it Simple Stupid.

Dumbacher: “Keeping it simple has its advantages. I’m not going to use the second ‘S’ (laughs).

AmericaSpace: Well, Dan, that covers the three main comments that we’ve seen repeatedly raised, and so I would like to talk to you a bit about EFT-1, which is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy late next year, and then in 2017 we should see the first unmanned test flight of an SLS from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B. However, it is 2021 which is the big year, because that will be the year that the U.S. will send a crew beyond Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. Would you like to talk a bit about what this mission will mean for NASA?

NASA has the first flight of the Orion spacecraft scheduled to take place in the latter half of 2014. More and more elements needed to conduct this mission have been assembled and are being readied for the inaugural flight for the first flight of NASA's new spacecraft. After that the first combined Orion and SLS flight will take place in 2017 and then the first mission to carry a crew will take place in 2021. According to Dumbacher, the rational behind this slower approach is based in the realities of NASA's budget. Image Credit: NASA

NASA has the first flight of the Orion spacecraft scheduled to take place in the latter half of 2014. More and more elements needed to conduct this mission have been assembled and are being readied for the inaugural flight of NASA’s new spacecraft. After that the first combined Orion and SLS flight will take place in 2017, and then the first mission to carry a crew will take place in 2021. According to Dumbacher, the rationale behind this slower approach is based in the realities of NASA’s budget. Image Credit: NASA

Dumbacher: “Yes, first though I’d like to talk about Exploration Flight Test One, which will be taking place in 2014. First of all, it is not the full-up Orion; it is the Orion structure, its heat shield—those things that we need to get tested as part of developing the crew vehicle. Because it weighs less we are able to send it to high-Earth orbit with a Delta IV Heavy; a Delta IV Heavy could not get Orion beyond Earth orbit. So the Delta IV Heavy meets our testing needs to get the data we need for the design of Orion. EM-1 and EM-2 (Exploration Mission 1 and Exploration Mission 2) is essentially a full-up Orion minus the systems needed to support a crew. We’re flying that on EM-1 because we get the integrated stack; we’ll get a better understanding of how SLS and Orion work together in the flight environment; we actually go all the way out to the Moon. With EM-1 all we are doing is looking at what the manned mission, EM-1, will look like and test out much of the procedures on EM-2—EM-1 as a ‘practice run.’ EM-2 is the crewed flight, and it will go to lunar space.”

AmericaSpace: Without getting into the orbital mechanics involved, can you break down for us what this mission will look like? Will it be similar to the Apollo 8 mission (which traveled around the Moon in 1968)?

Dumbacher: “We’ve drawn it up that way. I think I probably could have done a better job of communicating what this mission will look like. EM-2 will have the capability of going to LaGrangian Points, to retro-grade orbits, to do an Apollo 8-style mission. We’re sorting through what type of mission makes the most sense. This goes back to the questions: ‘What do we need to learn?’ and ‘How do we need to learn it—in order to prepare for Mars?’ ”

AmericaSpace: What we heard today is that not only does NASA want SLS, but the agency feels that it needs SLS to be able to go to Mars. That the agency is doing what it can to not only stay within the budget that it has been allotted, but also to be as safe as possible when doing it. NASA views SLS as the rocket that is finally going to send humans to Mars.

Dumbacher: “Right, and I will add to that a little bit in that to do anything significant or worthwhile beyond Earth orbit, we need a launch vehicle like SLS and a spacecraft like Orion in order to execute those missions. They are fundamental elements to our human exploration beyond Earth orbit. It is kind of like how the National Interstate System is a fundamental capability to service our economy. SLS and Orion are fundamental capabilities to allow us to send humans beyond the orbit of Earth.

Dan L. Dumbacher is the AAA for Human Exploration Capabilities, at NASA Headquarters. He provides leadership and management for the directorate with a special focus on space launch systems and multipurpose crew vehicle (Orion) planning activities, as the Program Director for SLS / MPCV/ 21st Century Ground Systems. Photo Credit: NASA

Dan L. Dumbacher is the AAA for Human Exploration Capabilities at NASA Headquarters. He provides leadership and management for the directorate with a special focus on space launch systems and multipurpose crew vehicle (Orion) planning activities, as the Program Director for SLS / MPCV/ 21st Century Ground Systems. Photo Credit: NASA

AmericaSpace: As you might tell, there is some confusion out in the public regarding this subject, which is why we brought it up. We always like to close with the following question: If there was any one thing that you wanted to make the public aware of in terms of SLS and Orion, what would it be?

Dumbacher: “I think that it is all the stuff that we’ve talked about, and I’ll add one. There is the perception in the general public that, since shuttle, NASA is out of the human exploration and human space flight business—that is the furthest thing from the truth. We might not be moving as fast as some people would like, but that is because of the budget conditions. NASA—through its efforts on Commercial Crew and the International Space Station, as well as SLS and Orion—is heavily working on human space exploration. While it might have taken a different form from the shuttle program, this agency is still exploring space. We have a permanent human presence in low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station with the testing and the experiments that we run there. We’re also working to have commercial companies send crew and cargo to the station—an important and integral component of our exploration activities—and NASA is looking beyond Earth orbit with SLS and Orion. So, I think if anything I would add for the general public that NASA is still in the human spaceflight business, and there’s going to be more coming and we’re working very hard on it.”

To summarize, the three points that have been raised about SLS are as follows:

  • 1 — NASA does not want SLS and is working on it because it is being forced to do so. This statement, from the very highest levels within NASA, does not appear to have any basis in fact. Quite the contrary, NASA has stridently stated the exact opposite.
  • 2 — There is no mission for the heavy-lift booster. In the short-term this is somewhat accurate. However, Dumbacher addressed this as well. SLS is going to be used to send humans to Mars.
  • 3 — NASA cannot afford SLS. In actuality, the space agency is monitoring the expense of both SLS and Orion to make sure that they remain within NASA’s allotted budget.

We also wanted to address statements regarding the use of commercial rockets to replace the Space Launch System and the metric ton requirements placed on SLS. According to Dumbacher, for the time being it would cost more to conduct multiple launches on smaller rockets, and the metric ton requirements were put in place to ensure the booster could loft the payload required to conduct a crewed mission to Mars.

Dan L. Dumbacher is the AAA for Human Exploration Capabilities at NASA Headquarters. He provides leadership and management for the directorate with a special focus on space launch systems and multipurpose crew vehicle (Orion) planning activities, as the Program Director for SLS / MPCV/ 21st Century Ground Systems. 

64 comments to Space Launch System Truths and Misconceptions

  • Ferris Valyn

    Jason – a point of clarification – When Bolden talks about his 3 big priorities, SLS and Orion were one priority, not separate.

    The third priority is ISS and Commercial Cargo/Crew

    • Ferris,
      Let me go back & verify that part. I could have sworn he said JWST – that might be short-term goals. Thanks Ferris.
      Sincerely, Jason

      • Ferris Valyn

        JWST is in there, as well. But you are separating out Orion and SLS, as 2 different priorities.

        Its ISS/Commercial Crew, Orion/SLS, and JWST

        • Ferris,
          Sorry about that. I adjusted the article. Thanks for the heads up.
          On an unrelated note, if I wrote the Op-Ed – would you mind reviewing to make sure I got your “side” right?
          Sincerely, Jason

  • Karol

    Dan Dumbacher may be receiving what he wished for as to the general public being informed that NASA is in the space exploration business. A crowdfund campaign for NASA has been put together by the Aerospace Industries Association of America. They plan to buy ad time to run alongside the motion picture “Star Trek: Into Darkness” to run in fifty theatres. The trailer will highlight the space exploration efforts of NASA.

  • Coastal Ron

    First of all, congratulations on getting the interview, and it was a good one. Lots to unpack, so I’ll start with your conclusions:

    1 — NASA does not want SLS and is working on it because it is being forced to do so. This statement, from the very highest levels within NASA, does not appear to have any basis in fact. Quite the contrary, NASA has stridently stated the exact opposite.

    Dumbacher, as a Deputy Associate Administrator, is an employee of NASA. The person who is actually in charge of NASA for the past four years and next four years is the President, and the President expresses his wants and desires through his budgets.

    As I pointed out on your previous post on this interview, the Presidents 2011 budget request did not have a 70-130mt rocket listed as one of the things the President wanted. And that means that NASA did not want a 70-130mt rocket. The Senate is where the idea for the SLS came from, without any input from the President, and the Senate also wrote the specs for the SLS, also without any input from the President or NASA.

    Employees within NASA stating that they wanted it doesn’t matter, since they will work with whatever the Congress and the President give them.

    And just as you will find people within NASA that truly do want a 130mt rocket, you will also find people that feel they can do the same missions using commercial launchers. Asking individual employees what they want is really immaterial, since they don’t decide – the President and Congress do.

    And in this case, the President (i.e. NASA) did not want the SLS, but Congress did. Congress won.

    Those are the facts.

    • I wasn’t referring to Dumbacher – I was talking about Bolden. Also, the president’s plans – really aren’t going anywhere, while the project you stated was forced on NASA by Congress is. I feel this proves your: “The President tells NASA what to do” statement as inaccurate.

      Just because Obama wants something – doesn’t mean the people that guide the agency want it. Contrary to your opinion – they do have a role to play in determining NASA’s path. Moreover – I find it curious that you point to a budget request that is two years out of date. Why did you ignore the 2012 & 2013 FY Budget requests? Why did you ignore which elements of NASA were impacted by sequestration? It’s called cherry-picking – you should probably read all the documents, not just the one’s that supported your worldview.

      Ron, now you’re just being stubborn. Your statement was that NASA didn’t want SLS. Well, you know what? You’re wrong. You are cherry-picking certain elements to make an erroneous conclusion. Most of the folks that I’ve spoken to within NASA – want SLS. Forgive me, but I’m going to take their word over someone who has already admitted that he’s posting under a fake name & has no experience in aerospace matters. Moreover, you’ve shown a willingness to ignore information that contradicts your beliefs.

      No Ron, they aren’t “facts” – they’re carefully-selected tidbits of info that you’ve grafted into the incorrect opinion that NASA doesn’t want SLS. Obama might not want SLS – but that doesn’t mean the agency doesn’t.

      I would recommend that you not post your opinions in the definitive (as fact).

      • Coastal Ron

        I wasn’t referring to Dumbacher – I was talking about Bolden.

        Bolden serves “at the pleasure of the President.” The NASA Administrator is an employee of the President. He doesn’t put out policy that isn’t blessed by the President or the President’s staff.

        That’s how the politics of that works.

        Also, the president’s plans – really aren’t going anywhere…

        I don’t know what you mean by that statement.

        Is such a trip funded? No. There is no funding for an exploration trip to an NEO using the Orion/SLS or any other hardware. Dumbacher confirmed that.

        Is NASA working on plans for such a trip? Yes, Bolden and Dumbacher have stated that they are.

        So what is it that you mean?

        …while the project you stated was forced on NASA by Congress is.

        Sure, the SLS is funded. No argument there.

        But that is not the real issue, it’s whether there will ever be enough money from Congress to use the SLS effectively.

        I’ll provide some specific examples of what I mean on a separate post.

      • Coastal Ron

        This comment violates AmericaSpace commenting rules and has been removed.

        • Ron,
          I think most will agree it makes more sense to listen to NASA professionals detail what something is – than someone posting under a fake name on a blog who has admitted he has no experience in aerospace. I took your questions to NASA. Now you’re denying what Dumbacher said, attempting to reword it to bolster your beliefs or ignoring elements of the interview. What I can take from that is that no matter what I present to you – you’re just going to refute it. I’ve had conversations like this before, with Moon-hoaxers (those that deny we ever landed on the Moon). They fall into the category of “waste of time.”
          NASA wants SLS. NASA is timing the SLS’ events to fit within budget constraints & while the short-term destination hasn’t been determined – the long-term one has. I invested a lot of time & energy into this. You should feel appreciative I took the time to address your beliefs, instead you continue to insist you’re correct, imply that NASA representatives aren’t being truthful & so on. I’ve no interest in wasting time on someone who is incapable of admitting he might actually be wrong. I could spend ten years providing you with data & at the end of those ten years you’d still insist you’re right & the world is wrong.
          Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

          • Coastal Ron

            This comment violates AmericaSpace commenting rules and has been removed.

            • Ron said (on Mar. 13 at 2:24 a.m.):

              Can anyone point to a known need for the SLS? (This is you asking what SLS’ purpose was)

              Ron said (on Mar. 13 at 2:24 a.m.):

              Until that happens, the SLS serves no purpose. (This is you stating SLS has no purpose)

              Ron said: (on Mar. 11 10:19 p.m.):

              For those of us that don’t like the SLS, it’s because it’s being built far in advance of any known need. (This is you stating SLS has no purpose)

              Ron said (on Mar. 12 at 1:15 p.m.:

              You have even agreed with me that there are no known needs for the SLS. (This is you stating SLS has no purpose. Also, I never agreed with you, you made this up to bolster your argument).

              Ron said (on Mar. 11 at 4:21 a.m.):

              I have yet to find anyone that can show any evidence that Congress actually plans to fund any use for the SLS too. (This is you saying NASA cannot afford SLS)

              Ron said: (on Mar. 10 at 1:09 a.m.)

              Time to kill the SLS program, which the Senate only intended as a jobs program anyways. (This is you saying that NASA didn’t want SLS – only the Senate did)

              Ron said (on Mar. 11 at 4:21 a.m.):

              Plus, the President didn’t want the SLS, so he is not going to be going out on a limb to increase NASA’s budget, and he certainly won’t be volunteering up any of his favorite programs to be cancelled to make way for SLS missions. (You’ve already said that it’s the President that determines what NASA “wants”)/em>

              Ron said: (on Mar. 27 at 5:27 p.m.)

              Does NASA want the SLS? (This is you asking the question as of today)

              Ron, as you’re well aware, AmericaSpace is a troll-free zone. While we encourage discussion, we do not tolerate those that make false or intentionally misleading statements. As shown here, you not only made the comments that were the basis of the questions in the interview – you have made them repeatedly. Therefore stating that these were my questions is being dishonest. This is not the first time that you conducted yourself in this manner. We have therefore opted to remove your commenting privileges.

              Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

          • Coastal Ron

            This comment violates AmericaSpace commenting rules and has been removed.

  • Coastal Ron

    2 — There is no mission for the heavy-lift booster. In the short-term this is somewhat accurate. However, Dumbacher addressed this as well. SLS is going to be used to send humans to Mars.

    My wording on this has always been very clear – there are no funded missions for the SLS, and that was not refuted by Mr. Dumbacher.

    In fact I noticed that you didn’t ask when they needed to start getting funding in order to start using the SLS when it becomes operational. That would have been a more meaningful question, since that gets to the heart of the situation we have.

    What Mr. Dumbacher talked about are unfunded plans, and NASA is always working on unfunded plans. And he didn’t say that the SLS would be used, but they were doing “trade studies”. So instead of assuming that the SLS was the only launch system being looked at, he actually stated that commercial launch systems were being looked at too.

    What was perhaps the most enlightening part of the interview was that yes, they would consider non-NASA rockets for future missions. If SLS congressional supporters get wind of that, they are going to have kittens!

    Because what Dumbacher said on that topic is quite true, about taking into account total costs for a hardware infrastructure, not just the $/lb for the launch system. That is an area I am familiar with, since my background is in manufacturing operations.

    For instance, to truly utilize the capability of the SLS, it needs to carry payloads larger than 5 meters in diameter (commercial launcher size). Current 5m diameter payloads can be transported by truck down a highway, or within a cargo aircraft. However 8m diameter payloads can’t use highways or aircraft, so they have to be transported by ship. The factories also have to be by ports, and cannot be very far from those ports, meaning only companies with facilities near water can build SLS payloads. That raises costs quite a bit, since that means new factories.

    • If you’d read my earlier comments – you’ll find this was the one statement you made that had some truth to it.

      You made a lot of claims – I focused on those. The interview was already over 3,000 words long. I asked the side questions that were raised, but no, I didn’t consider what you personally wanted answered. As to your meaningful question comment. It was your comments that guided the interview, don’t get upset because your opinion wasn’t validated.

      He stated that if (& its a big if) commercial can do what SLS is designed for – then it will be considered. As of right now? They can’t. He mentions the restrictions on this. Again, do yourself a favor & stop cherry-picking data to support what you think someone is saying.

      Given that staffers on the hill read AS all the time? I’m sure they will “get wind of it.” I’m not sure what you think will happen, but I’m fairly certain whatever it is – it’s inaccurate.

      There are a few similarities between aerospace & football. Just because I know a lot about one – doesn’t mean I know anything about the other. You’re trying to shoehorn your experiences to make you knowledgeable about something else. Sorry, but it doesn’t always work.

      Also, SLS will be able to carry payloads that are far too large for commercial carriers to loft. Did you miss the part where he talks about the Delta IV Heavy’s limitations & why it can only be used for EFT-1? Did you miss how he stated the dangers involved with multiple launches? Delta IV Heavy is the largest launch vehicle we currently have. So, let’s just say that your comments about commercial companies conducting these missions is wildly inaccurate. Moreover, he details the need for a 130MT lifter. I suggest you read the entire article & not just skim.

  • yg1968

    Dumbacher’s answer to why not use Falcon Heavy isn’t convincing. Furthermore, SpaceX’ MCT could likely rival SLS and be more affordable.

    • Coastal Ron

      yg1968 said:

      Dumbacher’s answer to why not use Falcon Heavy isn’t convincing.

      I thought he was pretty neutral, so I don’t see that he singled out any particular launch system, but said NASA would be looking at the whole infrastructure eco-system to determine the right sized launchers.

      Furthermore, SpaceX’ MCT could likely rival SLS and be more affordable.

      Any commercial 130mt launcher would be less expensive than one built by the government. As always, the government should only do what citizens and companies are unable or unwilling to do. And in the case of HLV’s, the private sector has said they can provide NASA with whatever launch capacity needs they have. Too bad Congress won’t let them.

  • Karol

    Congratulations Jason, this interview is the subject of the lead-off post “Mars Is The Ultimate Destination For SLS” under “Space and Astronautics” in the Daily Launch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Excellent work!

  • Coastal Ron

    3 — NASA cannot afford SLS. In actuality, the space agency is monitoring the expense of both SLS and Orion to make sure that they remain within NASA’s allotted budget.

    “Monitoring” and “affordable” are two completely different and unrelated things. As I’m sure you’re aware, “monitoring” is PR-speak, and is really a meaningless term. It’s code for “I can’t go into any details, so I’m going to avoid the subject”.

    NASA’s current funding is for building the SLS, not for using it, and I have always been clear that NASA does not have the budget to use the SLS.

    Dumbacher did not confirm or deny that NASA can afford the SLS – he didn’t address it at all.

  • Leonidas

    Again, it was an excellent interview! I think that Dumbacher did an excellent work addressing all the criticism fairly and objectively. It surely feels great to hear NASA officials put the record straight in a calm, objective manner.

    It’s surely a refreshing example of objectivity, something that seems to be missing within the greater space community…

    • Leo,
      Thanks, it’s disappointing that you & I were able to predict what the reaction from some would be with such accuracy.
      Sincerely, Jason

      • Leonidas

        Yes Jason, it really is.

        Once again, it proves that people generally react emotionally rather than act logically when comfronted with facts. This exact criticism towards SLS and the exact same arguments, I’ve been hearing them for two years now, all over the internet, whenever the topic of SLS comes up. I’ve never had the chance to hear someone from NASA officially set the record straight so eloquently and fairly until now. And I can’t emphasize the word ‘objectivelly’ high enough!

        Now wonder why things in public dialogue and debate in life get so screwed up. Eveyone tries to force their opinions down other people’s throats no matter what the facts are.

        • Coastal Ron

          Leonidas, let me ask you a question.

          It is my contention that there are two issues here being conflated.

          1. Did NASA ask for the SLS?

          2. Does NASA want the SLS?

          I would stipulate that there are a number of people within NASA that want an HLV. And I have never denied this. I would even agree that there are lots of unfunded plans that could use the SLS. I have never denied that either.

          But I have also said that NASA did not ask for the SLS. Jason seems to disagree.

          If you agree with Jason, could you point to the NASA document requesting funding for a 130mt rocket?

          Because I can point to the NASA 2011 Budget request that shows that NASA wasn’t asking for a 130mt rocket, but funding to do other things.

          What do you say?

          • Leonidas

            I can point you to the NASA 2012 Budget request that clearly requests money for SLS:

            http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/516674main_NASAFY12_Budget_Estimates-Overview-508.pdf

            • Leo,
              Ron can’t reply.
              Sincerely, Jason

              • yg1968

                On the flip side, Dumbacher answer seem to imply that NASA went directly from Ares V to SLS. He is forgetting the FY 2011 NASA Budget. SLS and MPCV were forced onto the President through the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The President signed that bill. So obviously, he has to follow it. But the bill was a compromise.

                • Leonidas

                  Still, he could have vetoed the bill if he wanted to.

                  On the other hand I really don’t understand the criticism that Congress forced SLS to everyone. Even if that was the case, don’t we need a HLV anyway for going beyond LEO? I mean OK, you’d possibly do things with medium-class launchers, but wouldn’t that stretch timelines and costs significantly? You’d be gaining on lower costs per launch, but you’d be losing in the long run, cause you’d have that many more launches and the cost of infrastructure that goes with them. That’s what Dumbacher essentialy said in the interview. And he’s right.

                  For instance, look at Golden Spike’s plan of complexity and multiple launches scedule, for going to the Moon in 2020.

                  • Michael Gallagher

                    And one more potential hole in the “senate forced the SLS” argument: Didn’t President Obama have to sign that agreement into law? If so, he could have vetoed it, or held out for a different design. But he signed it.

  • Borecrawler

    This was an excellent article, and one of the first places I have heard a factual conversation about what NASA is doing and why. This tends to get lost in political rhetoric. The fact is, NASA is doing the best it can with the budget given. I especially enjoyed Mr. Dumbacher’s comments on why commercial launchers cannot “automatically” do BEO for cheaper-and more importantly, why cost is not the only factor in NASA’s decision to build SLS. Of course, you realize that you just fed the trolls-evidenced by some of their tired old comments about Falcon Heavy, blah blah blah. Thank you for a very informative and common-sense filled interview.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    Ron,
    You are so transparent its a little bit sickening. Every one of your tenets have been proved to be unsubstantiated and simply rhetoric. You indicated previously you were not going to post on this website anymore as you are nothing but a troll.

    Why do you return and promote how uneducated and illogical you are?

  • Steven White

    Great article! Thanks for your efforts to provide this interesting information on the progress of SLS and Orion. President Obama gave his approval to SLS when he signed the 2010 NASA authorization act. He had the opportunity to veto the law, he did not.

  • Stuart

    I found this a fascinating article.

    I am indeed refusing to allow my English cynicism to affect my judgement.

    I do have to ask why hasn’t anyone from NASA been so forthright before?

    To be honest I am intrigued to read the statement that he imagines a Mars capable spacecraft would need to be twice the size of the ISS. That it may take 6 launches of the 130 tons SLS variant to build such a spacecraft. Funny really I imagined the ISS weighed more than 750 tons.

    I wonder if they have any provisional design ideas yet? Indeed at that size I would have thought a “nuclear” power source with “adequate” shielding becomes feasible.

    Am I been just too optimistic?

  • charlie lecorn jr

    this coastal ron guy is nothing why do the rest of us have to be involved in his lies we all of us just want to hear about what nasa is involved in I hope you do omit him from further comments thank-you…….

    • Charlie,
      We’re trying to make AmericaSpace a forum for all point of view on space matters. He’s not the 1st person to make the comments that were the basis of this article. We don’t omit anyone unless they: use vulgar language, smear others (to date only one person has been banned because of this – he talked ill of the dead) or who have shown a propensity to state falsehoods as fact. You don’t have to be involved, but we think it’s important to investigate the validity of statements that are uttered as “fact.”
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • Karol

        For speaking ill of our beloved Neil Armstrong, soft-spoken modest iconic American hero, courageous astronaut, and brave military veteran, the banned person should be grateful we couldn’t give him a special tooth-rattlin’ “Buzz Aldrin Salute” to the jaw! :-)

    • Michael Gallagher

      I’ve been debating Ron on Aviationweek.com, and one thing he forgets is that in FY 2011, President Obama did call for five years of research into a heavy lifter based on a new RP-1 engine. So at the very least, the Obama administration isn’t TOTALLY opposed to HLV’s. But this brings up another question: Is part of the reason for the fight that lead to the current siutation that the president did a poor job of selling the FY2011 “vision”? If you go to Youtube and enter “Obama launch vehicle,” you get a bunch of clips on SLS, but nothing resembling what he called for before. Would things have gone differently if he’d tried harder to sell it? Just a might-have-been.

  • Jeff Wright

    People have been pushing for shuttle derived heavy lift for quite some time. ALS, NLS, Magnum, CaLV, Ares V, Direct, SLS, etc.

    So to say that Congress is pushing this is nonsense. For once, they are supporting what pro-HLLV folks have wanted all along. It was the Venture Star nuts, EELV hucksters and alt.spacers who were getting in the way.

  • Charlie LeCorn Jr.

    JASON.Iam sorry I MissUnderstood.im not as up to date with all this congress talk about nasa but I do read all articles and comments keep up excellent work. looking forward to reading more.Charlie………

    • Hi Charlie,
      Nothing to apologize for. I know a lot of folks aren’t aware what inspired the interview in the first place. Thanks for visiting AmericaSpace!
      Sincerely, Jason

  • Charlie LeCorn Jr.

    cool..just finished watching to iss love this stuff.

  • Charlie LeCorn Jr.

    oops left docking out……

  • Good article. Thank you for presenting it Jason. For me the key paragraph is the one that begins…

    “If we could do it for less…”

    If I remember correctly, they did a study of depots and found they could definitely do it for less and sooner. However, what about this referenced analysis (it would be nice to have a link to something regarding this.) What about the other issues he mentions?

    …there is a trade off…

    Which was also addressed in the earlier depot report which concluded they were the way to go.

    the crew will have to contend with longer exposure time in the space environment

    This does not follow. The I.S.S. for example, has multiple crews, not just one that stays and does everything. The crew that prepares a ship doesn’t have to be the crew that flies the mission. Gemini and Apollo have shown that crew safety to orbit can be much greater than the shuttle has demonstrated. Dragon has shown it can cost much less.

    you also have to include the infrastructure on the ground to manufacture and assemble all of those extra launch vehicles.

    No. This is another financial sleight of hand. All of the infrastructure is included in the price to NASA of the launch vehicle. To include infrastructure would be double counting. I can see how he would make this mistake however, since he’s not looking at it as a commercial purchase. He is pointedly not.

    This is why a link to the analysis would be useful. We can only guess at the biases in it without having a chance to look at it.

    I’m not sure what the annual cost of SLS has been so far, but I hear it’s in the neighborhood of $3b+.

    It seems to me that a Bigelow module and the upper stage that put it in orbit represents a nearly complete ship (fuel storage beyond that of the upper stage being the missing ingredient that doesn’t have to survive launch stresses being deployed after launch.)

    It has been demonstrate that Bigelow modules can be sized to the capability of the launcher (I’ve proposed a 40,000 kg BA700 for launch on a FH for just that reason.) The total for the cost of the module and the cost of launching it to orbit would be about $300m. Which means for the annual development cost of the SLS we could put ten BA700 class ships in orbit each year on a launch system that will be ready in less than two years. Or two to four with enough fuel to go to mars.

    Sorry for the long post, but the SLS has been accused of being a jobs program and my analysis seems to support that.

    In a race to mars between the SLS and MCT, I’ve got to bet on the latter.

    • Hi Ken,
      I conducted the interview as promised, sorry I didn’t provide everything you wanted.

      As to your “sleight of hand comment.” Actually? If the locations have to be human-rated? The cost would escalate dramatically (Under the commercial multi-launch approach at least one if not more of the flights would be manned. Moreover – have you ever been to a pad after a launch? It gets roughed up, requiring a lot of expensive maintenance work). This is the problem with selectively reviewing data to bolster one side or the other. What’s required is to review all the data. That’s why I don’t fit into either camp. Because I look at the things that both sides are getting right – as well as what both sides are getting wrong.

      Neither SLS nor FH has flown – therefore stating what the cost of one or the other “will” be is disingenuous at best. Look at the F9, the costs were really low in the start, but as they flew more? That cost has increased. The worst thing you can do in this business is believe what someone puts in a press release or on a PowerPoint. Both NASA & private space firms have made numerous claims – some happened – some didn’t.

      The budgets, expenses of various programs & other data you want – are public record. If I spend all the time required to provide anti-SLS folks with “proof” – I won’t get any other work done (I edit, write, do videography, photography, HR, IT, PR, marketing, advertising & more). I’m not complaining, that’s just what is required to run a small media outlet like AmericaSpace – lots of hard work. Try to look at it from my perspective. You can cover an array of events that interests a broader readership or you can focus on one assignment, one which a certain group will find fault in no matter how well written it is. What would you do?

      Out of curiosity – what is your background?

      Sincerely, Jason

  • I’m very happy with the article, you are a man of your word. I’m not at all disappointed except it is hard to really discuss an analysis if you don’t have a reference to it.

    What does human-rated have to do with anything I was discussing? Dumbacher said, which I quoted, that you had to include manufacture and assemble costs. That is incorrect. Those costs are included in the cost to NASA of the vehicle. To include them would be double counting (something govt. employees do quite often I notice.)

    Does the SLS not have to meet the exact same human-rated standard, whatever that is? As you said, for the commercial approach only one of many and a smaller vehicle at that, has to meet whatever that standard is. The reason I keep repeating, “whatever that standard is” (and I use to work for DOT-FAA-ANM so I have a good idea of what standards are) is that there are a bunch of standards rather than one comprehensive all inclusive standard. You will not find such a publication. Elon has even mentioned that because there is no such publication, he had to just make conservative choices from all the information that was available.

    What Dumbacher describes would be double counting, pure and simple. If the analysis includes that, the analysis is wrong.

    Neither SLS nor FH has flown

    You are correct. However, F9 has flown a number of times now and the odds are good that FH, which uses the same hardware, will fly soon.

    public record

    The analysis probably is as well. I guess I’ll have to see what I can find.

    • Ken,

      I was once at a lecture during which former JSC Center Director Aaron Cohen explained the cost accounting differences between Apollo and Shuttle. As I recall, and this lecture was 15 or so years ago, after Apollo, NASA changed the manner in which it costed the expenses of a Shuttle flight. Previous to Shuttle, the expense of a launch was the cost of the rocket. All of the other costs to NASA of running JSC, KSC, etc. in support of that launch were not a factor. The logic was that the facilities would exist and the civil servants paid regardless of the launch. With Shuttle, there was an attempt to cost-in the expenses of KSC folks getting the vehicle ready, or JSC engineers running sims, etc.

      I don’t know, and I doubt anyone here does (and those that do are not at liberty to discuss such on this site) how NASA will amortize the direct and indirect DDT&E, facilities construction, training, manufacturing, etc. costs into the price on a per SLS rocket basis. For example, beyond the direct cost of AL 2219, the workers assembling the rocket, the engines, the wiring, etc. do you assume that portion of Michoud operations that occurred to bring the facility up to building the launcher? How should NASA account for expenses such as the Vertical Assembly Center, the robotic weld tooling, and other things that will be used not only during the whole of SLS, but likely beyond, on a per SLS rocket? What about training workers to use that equipment? And administration costs associated with buying the equipment and making sure the trainees have lunch? More fundamentally, on equipment and material do you use LIFO or FIFO? What about projects at other Agency centers such as the Shell Buckling Knockdown Factors (SBKF) project at LaRC that will certainly factor into SLS and subsequent launchers? How much of that cost is accounted for in SLS? And then there’s the whole issue of whether equipment is being leased and how those lease-hold costs are managed. Simply put, it’s drawing conclusions to state that the manufacturing and assembly costs are included in the cost to NASA of the SLS vehicle. They may be; to some extent they may not be.

      Unless one is a managerial accountant or has a strong background in that area, along with access to NASA’s cost accounting standards for SLS, claims that Dumbacher is misdirecting in his statements about SLS costs are really not warranted.

      • Yes, there are many ways to do accounting. You can have more than one set of books and not be up to anything criminal. Normally you would on anything more than a simple project.

        Managerial accounting is about putting things in perspective for decision making. This means doing things so you can see the apples to apples relationships. Otherwise, it’s really not possible to make informed decisions.

        Some assumptions are not warranted. For example, yes there are a lot of costs that are not the rocket itself. But if you are going to have an apples to apples comparison, the way to do it is to allocate the appropriate percentage of fixed costs to the items you want to compare. Variable costs are by definition already allocated.

        how NASA will amortize…

        They have no right to keep this a secret. This is a public entity. Which means publishing a summary budget is not good enough. Every dollar spent has a tracking code. In government, you can’t get a pencil without one. In theory, we should know to the penny how much SLS is costing us. When it comes to something like the F9 we do know, because as a commercial item it’s paid for directly. Which means you don’t need to know the rent of a facility or how many labor hours went into it. It’s all included in the price.

        Ok, sometimes they play games with bills. Instead of a single figure they nickel and dimes fees (anyone with a bank account understands this.) Which just means you have to do the work yourself in getting to a single figure.

        So, did the analysis Dumbacher referred to do this? That’s not what he seems to be saying.

        Bottom line, we should know to the penny what the each SLS costs so we can make a comparison with the receipt of a comparable system.

        Whether you use LIFO, FIFO or some mean, you include that information. This is an example of where two or more sets of books are legitimate.

        When you allocate fixed costs, people can disagree. But when done honestly it gives you the best picture. We have no way of knowing when we are being mislead otherwise.

        The thing about the SLS is that whatever the actual costs are, we already know they are more than alternatives by a wide margin. That’s where disingenuous comes in.

  • what is required to run a small media outlet like AmericaSpace – lots of hard work.

    Before I forget. Know that your work is appreciated (and I always try never to be disingenuous.)

  • Near as I can tell, the $3b annual cost is $1.8b for SLS and $1.2b for Orion with about $10b spent or allocated so far.

    As you implied, these are development costs rather than operational costs since it has never flown. I also read that these costs are not sufficient to meet the mandated deadline.

    • Just to clarify. The FY13 budget for SLS is $2.119B and breaks down as follows:

      SLS Vehicle $1.454B
      Exploration Ground Systems $211M
      Facilities Construction (CoF) $402.8M

      The FY13 budget for Orion is $1.2003B and breaks down as follows,

      Orion Vehicle $1.197B
      Orion CoF $3.3M

      By comparison, FY12 budget for the SLS and Orion programs were $1.86B and $1.2B respectively.

      So, depending upon one’s viewpoint, the FY13 budgets for Orion and SLS amount to an endorsement or ringing endorsement of support by appropriators.

      There is some question as to whether sequestration will affect SLS, Orion, and JWST in FY13. All got a pass when the NASA sequestration plan was first announced by Bolden. Based on what I know, those same programs will get the same hands-off treatment for the remainder of the fiscal year. But even with a 5% cut all of those programs would still be fine.

      I have no idea if $2.119b is or is not enough for SLS vehicle development. I do know that the appropriators included several requirements on, and reports by, NASA on progress of the SLS program for the rest of the FY. And I can say that some appropriations folks are concerned that some in NASA’s HQ might try to negatively impact SLS in some way late in the fiscal year. But Congressional appropriators, having played this same game for the last 2 years, seem ready for anything the NASA HQ SLS opponents dream-up.

      So any effort to slow or shut-down SLS would be pointless. I mean, what part about the FY13 language by appropriators,

      “Support for NASA’s evolvable SLS development approach, which will provide a 70 ton SLS configuration by 2017 and build to a 130 ton configuration as work is completed on an upper stage and advanced booster system, is reiterated.”

      is hard to understand? Of course, I am assuming that those at NASA HQ who vainly tried to kill SLS in 2011 read the laws they are to execute. Or…who knows, maybe they like being served subpoenas.

  • What justification do you have for using a capital G in Lagrange’s name? Others do not use it.

  • Tracy

    I for one am excited about the SLS…It accomplishes several things, most importantly it keeps engineers employed that would otherwise not be and are not out there trying to start another commercial rocket company so when the Falcon 9 Heavy comes online then SpaceX will have a good labor pool to drain from NASA. Secondly, the Falcon 9 Heavy is not here yet…So we do have to have a backup plan. Finally this process of NASA system design continues to illustrate first hand just how incompetent our representatives are with managing the peoples money….I am thinking that WATSON the AI engine that IBM built could do a much better job…

  • Secondly, the Falcon 9 Heavy is not here yet…So we do have to have a backup plan.

    I would like to see some serious competition for SpaceX. Govt. programs are not the competition I have in mind. I mean free enterprise competition. I do believe that as markets open up (colonization BEO) we will see that competition.

    Only in defense do I want to see government beating all the competition. I certainly don’t want to see them driving private companies out of business.

  • Jeff Wright

    The losers at Aviation Week to took Covault for granted have given time to pete Wilson at RAND who bashed SLS–on an April 1 posting:
    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=31548.0

    Fitting, that

    Ironically, if you do a search on this worthy
    http://www.rand.org/about/people/w/wilson_peter_a.html
    You see that he supports gigantism in the military, like heavy lift aircraft options.

    Sad he doesn’t grant HLV advocates the support.

  • […] its launch vehicle with something they currently lack—a clear short-term objective (NASA’s Dan Dumbacher has stated that the long-term objectives of both these craft is to send astronauts to Mars sometime in the […]

  • Michael Gallagher

    Thank you for getting this interview and posting it. It clarified some things, but I’m still puzzled as to why the first two SLS flights are four years apart when the Shuttle flew 3-5 times per year, the Saturn V (source of J-2X and F-1) flew 13 per year, and Delta IV (source of the interim upper stage) flew four times last year. So while he addressed that issue, something’s still not quite right. But again, thank you for the article.

  • […] Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Dan Dumbacher stated on AmericaSpace that the long-term mission for SLS was to send astronauts to […]

  • […] Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Dan Dumbacher stated on AmericaSpace that the long-term mission for SLS was to send astronauts to […]

  • […] Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Dan Dumbacher stated on AmericaSpace that the long-term mission for SLS was to send astronauts to […]

  • […] representatives have gone on record as stating that SLS is key to sending crews to Mars, a mission that is currently estimated to take […]

  • […] representatives have gone on record as stating that SLS is key to sending crews to Mars, a mission that is currently estimated to take […]