Orlando Sentinel: New Crew System Will Cost $38 Billion

Orlando Sentinel: New Crew System Will Cost $38 Billion

The Orlando Sentinel asserts that the new NASA-developed launch vehicle and crew capsule for the future U.S. human spaceflight program will cost $38 billion over the next 10 years.

The newspaper reports that it obtained access to internal NASA documents showing that NASA’s preliminary estimate is that the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will cost $17-22 billion between now and the system’s first test flight in December 2017, and another $12-16 billion between then and the first flight with a crew around the Moon in August 2021.

The agency has not released its design for the SLS despite repeated requests by Congress. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in July that he is awaiting independent cost assessments and it could be fall before an announcement is made.

Congress directed NASA to build the SLS and MPCV in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The decision was a compromise with the Obama Administration, which wanted NASA to subsidize the emergence of a commercial capability to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and wait until 2015 to make decisions about what type of launch vehicle NASA itself should build for beyond LEO expeditions. Under the law, NASA is to do both, and to proceed immediately with design and development of its own new launch vehicle, the SLS (generically called a “heavy lift launch vehicle” or HLLV). The agency was required to provide a report to Congress about the SLS and MPCV cost and design in January, but only a preliminary report was submitted. Congress is still waiting for the final report. NASA did formally announce that it would continue with the Orion spacecraft from the cancelled Constellation program to fulfill the MPCV role, but the SLS announcement is still pending. With growing impatience, key Senators on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee requested documentation from NASA about its SLS decision making process in May. The agency has not provided what the Senators requested and the committee issued a subpoena in July.

The non-NASA website NASAspaceflight.com has posted several stories with detailed accounts of the SLS design, however. If correct, NASA chose a system derived from the space shuttle with some elements of the Ares rocket that NASA was developing under the Constellation program.

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