Mar 292017

NASA Spends 72 Cents of Every SLS Dollar On Overhead Costs, Says Report

Yikes. Assuming  the SLS flies on schedule, $43 billion will have been spent on it, the Ares I and the Orion capsule. Of course, if it *doesn’t* fly on schedule, or gets cancelled, $43 billion will have still been spent on it. That’s about half the cost of the *entire* Apollo program, without having actually landed a man on the moon… or even funded the development of an actual lunar lander.

Of the $19 billion so far spent directly on SLS, only $7 billion (“only,” he said, chuckling sadly, imagining what he could do with a tenth of that) has gone to the companies that are actually making stuff.

Whether you like the idea of HLLVs in general, or like the SLS in particular, the costs and inefficiencies involved are really kinda obscene. And in the age of SpaceX and Falcon 9… kinda indefensible.


 Posted by at 12:07 am
  • becida

    Where did the rest of the money go?

    • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

      That’s a good question. What else is the money being used to purchase?

      • CaptainNed

        You don’t really think the gov’t spends $1,100 on a toilet seat, do you?

  • becida

    To put this in perspective the government gave $700 billion to the bankers in 2008 to cover their gambling losses.

    • se jones

      Excuse me? I’m sorry, it was Barney Frank (with Bill Klinton’s blessing) who turned minor government housing programs Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, into monster, taxpayer backed, lenders backing all mortgage loans in this country. And because of anti-discrimination laws on steroids, plus loans backed by “other people’s money” the banks did what you would expect, they were writing $400,000 mortgages for lettuce pickers in Central California because uncle sugar guaranteed it and big brother in DC demanded they help the “little guy”.

      So yeah, $700 billion gambling losses ’cause the gov tells you to gamble and don’t worry if you loose, they got ya covered anyway.

      And it’s happening all over again but the news media is ignoring it. Again.

      If Trump can’t get the children in Congress to do actual tax reform, so that businesses can grow again giving us GDP growth over crappy 2%, our civilization is fuc*ed. We’re like a family paying 120% of net worth on 26% credit cards, a mortgage balloon payment coming due, but an annual raise at work of 2% as far as the eye can see. It does not compute

      • Scottlowther

        While your explanation is not incorrect, it is incomplete. An important detail: the bankers were informed that if they *didn’t* crank out those shitty loans, they would be *arrested* for violating anti-discrimination laws.

        So it wasn’t just that bankers found a way to profit from a dumbass government program, they found a way to profit from government *threats.*

        • se jones

          Then there’s that

          • Bob

            You have to remember that’s what the Federal Government does. It wastes money. That’s its purpose. If it weren’t for the Federal Government and the Federal Reserve we would all be rich and every person could retire at age 40. We can’t have that!

        • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

          It can be argued, then, that the bankers were being good managers.

  • Siergen

    I was in a training class with a NASA employee several years ago, right after Congress had canceled their current manned space launcher program. The man boasted that no one would lose their jobs, and the current program would simply be renamed. He said that it was basically a slush fund to funnel money to certain key congressional districts, and no one cared if it ever actually worked.

  • Bob

    We developed the Saturn 1 and got about 20 flights out of it and threw it away. Then we developed the Saturn 5 and flew it about 20 times and threw it away. The Space Shuttle did slightly better but the costs were staggering. The Federal Government needs to get out of the launch business period and leave it to Musk Bezos and whoever else can bid the lowest. Gary Hudson and Tom Brosz said the reason they couldn’t get any investors was that the gummint dominated the launch business and there was no room for anybody else. The only reason Musk and Bezos are in is they have their own money and can do whatever they want they don’t need investors. If there were a chance to make money without government interference the venture capitalists would come around and costs would come down soon enough.

  • se jones

    To put this in perspective

    You can drive yourself crazy with NASA budget comparisons. The ones that really stick in my craw are:
    ○IRS tax return fraud = >$5 billion per annum
    ○Medicare fraud = >$ 60 billion per annum (that’s right, $60 billion for Hoverounds for your dead grandma)

    Can you see any private business pissing away $60 billion dollars for simple fraud? Fuc# no, but since these agencies are pissing away other people’s money…*Que sera, sera*.

    All that counts is *how* the money is spent within NASA’s annual appropriation. And that’s where the gigantic sums flushed on SLS/Orion are so obscene. The ≈1/2 total Apollo budget$ blown on SLS/Orion is even worse than the actual dollar amount, because if you factor the TIME per dollar spent, it’s even worse. For the ≈$110 billion (current dollars) spent on Apollo, we had *working* LVs & s/c flying actual missions to the moon in LESS THAN 10 FUCKING YEARS! Constellation program was started in 2005, SLS/Orion has been dragging on for >11 years without a single mission flown (the lame Delta IV Orion test not counting). And even worse, SLS/Orion is standing on the shoulders of giants, the NASA test facilities, and the flight experience has been done, we aren’t starting from Zero. And what’s more, we have fabulous computer power now that 1960s engineers couldn’t *dream* of. And on top of *that*, SLS is using off the shelf engines, and Orion has nothing on the Apollo CM, not to mention the Orion SM is just a re-warmed ESA ATV with a Shuttle OMS engine.
    Really, of the two, Orion is the more obscene rip-off to my mind, there is *NO* excuse for that thing to be so expensive and slow to finish, it’s just F-35 level pork. 60

    • publiusr

      That is also what translates into political support. I agree with you on Orion. The folks at MAF are good guys–who had to dodge a twister as well and internet trolls who would tell them their efforts are of no value. I’m sure they find that obscene as well.

      Besides SLS is the only hope NTR has–since every else has a hydrogen phobia these days.

  • se jones

    SLS/Orion cost & schedule:

    On The Other Hand: the lesson for Apollo engineers was loud ‘n clear; “work your ass off for years, put in 40+ hours of unpaid overtime a week, sleep on a cot outside the highbay, get fuc*ing divorced cause the wife & kids never see you, and then when the mission is accomplished with American heroes standing on another world, you get *LAID OFF*, so that together with the guys from Boeing’s 2707 there are 10,000 aerospace engineers selling garden rakes at Ace Hardware in 1973.

    So yeah, NASA and contractor employees are naturally afraid of a program with some sort of possible resolution goal, better to have something that can drag on forever, like Shuttle or ISS.

    Also, to be fair, NASA hasn’t had a 100% guarantee that Musk or Bezos won’t lose interest, or go bust (Musk, not Bezos) or die in a plane crash…at least the pork-o-saurus LockMartBoeingNorthGrumman will be around till the end of the universe.

    Speaking of Pork: the pork trope gets old after a fashion, and it presents a huge dilemma;
    so boo hoo, some contractor in some state gets big fat contracts. What’s the alternative? Make a rule that ALL aerospace projects *must* be spread exactly 50 ways equally, with an *army* of government bureaucrats making sure each state gets its 1/50th of the work package? North Dakota puts in 25 rivets, ships the part to Idaho for another 25 rivets, and so on?
    Or worse, since we don’t trust those congressmen with their appropriations committees with NASA centers, we go for Soviet style design bureaus run by Communist Party for-life bigwigs? Believe-you-me, that’s what the Bernie Sanders crowd would prefer.

    • FelixA9

      Annnnd, because you couldn’t “discriminate” by hiring actual qualified workers they’d get a system that would make the North Koreans look like The Right Stuff.

    • Doug Pirahna

      Regarding the pork, I think the logical solution is to spread it around less, not more. Instead of distributing the manufacturing processes around several key states most of it should be done (IMHO) near the launch site.

      Look at the shuttle, the SRB’s were loaded and refurbished in Utah and then shipped to Florida, recovered after launch and shipped back to Utah. The ET was built near New Orleans and shipped to Florida.
      The only one that made some sense was to build the shuttles in California since most of the aerospace industry was consolidated out there and they were designed to be air transportable.

      I think Aeroject had proposed building monolithic case SRB’s just up the coast from Kennedy and barging them down, that make far more logistical sense than shipping them 3/4 of the way across the country.

      • Scottlowther

        Building on-site always *sounds* good, but it often doesn’t really make sense. Florida, with the high humidity and ground water flooding, is a kinda awful place to build large solid rocket motors. Utah is a *great* place for that sort of thing.There are of course closer places to Florida… Texas, for example. But once you’re far enough away that you need to ship the things in by rail, a few hundred more miles of rail doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

        • Doug Pirahna

          But we built the ET’s at Michoud and it took dozens of pumps to keep that place dry during Katrina.

          If not FL then at least somewhere on the east coast to minimize the shipping costs.

          To my engineer mind its just horribly inefficient to ship this stuff all over the country when your launch site is on the SE corner

          • Scottlowther

            Again, though, if you’re already shipping hundreds of miles, it’s no big deal to ship a few hundred more. A lot of the cost in shipping is transferring from one system to another… truck to plane to train to boat.But once it’s on that train or boat, going further doesn’t mean much.

            Me, I’d be fine building the rockets of the future someone *nice* for a change, say, somewhere in the Rockies. And then shipping them to Florida by the only truly logical means: lobbing them ballistically under their own power.

          • se jones

            Like I always say: I want the Air & Space Smithsonian in Powderville Montana. Somewhere FAR from a big coastal city with a target painted on its back.

        • se jones

          *Utah is a *great* place*

          Says the former ATK guy in . . . Utah 😉 I agree, Utah is great and Moab is the center of the known universe.

          But really, the ASRM plant in Yellow Creek was flood protected and the boosters would have been made in air conditioned highbays. Remember, the ATK SRBs spent months at KSC anyway. Also, shipping loaded ordnance by rail is somewhat hazardous (the real reason SRB segments don’t go through Colorado, loaded ordnance isn’t allowed in the Moffat Tunnel).

          There were good technical reasons for ASRM, but to my mind it always felt like the main motivation for ASRM was to punish Morton Thiokol.

      • se jones

        *spread it around less, not more*

        I see your point, but the downside is having so much of our nation’s space assets co-located in such vulnerable locations on the Gulf & South Atlantic coasts. KSC is one Hurricane Andrew level storm away from a total disaster, which could put any exploration program on hold for years leaving astronaut crews on Mars or Luna in a pickle.

        Yes, NASA invested over $2 billion in the Aerojet-Lockheed ASRM, before cancelling the program. The ASRM plant was in Yellow Creek Mississippi, where the boosters could be shipped by barge to KSC. The three segment, continuous cast, ASRM would have been nice. NASA wanted the higher performance ASRM to launch full sized ISS modules, thus keeping assembly flights down. But, the constant ISS (aka “Fred”) overruns and schedule slips ate up the budget, so in the end there were more flights with smaller modules & Russian elements.

      • Kelly Starks

        >..Regarding the pork, I think the logical solution is to spread it around less, not more. Instead of distributing the manufacturing processes around several key states most of it should be done (IMHO) near the launch site…<
        That would kill all voter, hence political, support for the program outside Florida. Then the program gets canceled.
        There's a reason NASA and DOD dev programs get broken up into lots of parts distributed across the country.

  • Chozo the Frown

    A theory: The government is intentionally stalling any space exploration, whether government funded or by private means. They do this because people emigrating from Earth to Space stations or planets or moons makes it harder the government to tax them, to indoctrinate them, to control them, the last thing they want to see is their best and brightest moving to a colony that then reaches the point of being self sufficient and then declares independence.

    • se jones

      That’s 100 years in the future, gov doesn’t think past the next budget cycle or primary election.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    If The Donald were to call one of us and say “You can run the SLS program,” what would be our first act as the person at the top of it?

    • sferrin

      Get rid of all non-essential bodies.

    • Scottlowther

      That’s a toughie. It’d be easier to make good decisions at the beginning, but now that metal is bent, it’d be difficult, though not impossible, to say “cancel everything.”

      My first inclination would be to take half of the SLS budget and tell the SLS staff at NASA that they had six months to figure out how to continue SLS on that half… and how to take the other half and convert it – WITHIN FOUR YEARS – into a series of actual payloads. Right now SLS is a ship without an actual mission. Past everything else, that’s reason enough to cancel it outright: why blow cash on something with nothing to do?

      Also useful would be a prize-based system of financial remuneration. Have NASA centers *compete…* big prizes for the best payload concepts, personal bonuses for staff who figure out how to slash costs on the SLS and the payloads. Grumman, IIRC, offered $100 for every ounce that the LEM designers and technicians could figure out how to save. Do something like that for SLS & payload.

      And once payloads are determined, contractors will get paid *only* when they deliver.

      • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

        Sounds like a good start to me., Let’s write a letter to The Donald. Yes, I’m serious.

        I’d add is to start one’s regime with a demand that the whole operation be free of hiring controls of any sort (so we can hire only the productive). .And solicit suggestions for change but only from those directly involved with hardware.

        I discovered that’s it’s a good to ask about improvements in the janitorial staff and systems. When all the troops discover the boss cares about that, they understand that nothing is too small to be noticed and changed.

      • sferrin

        “And once payloads are determined, contractors will get paid *only* when they deliver.”

        The problem with this (and I’m not necessarily disagreeing) is that if the vendor can’t foot the bill for the entire project, with the possibility of never being paid, they won’t bid. Go to a contractor and tell them you want them to build you a house, but that you won’t pay them until it’s done to your satisfaction. Good luck finding a taker. Or, if a company underestimates the complexity of a project (that never happens), they go out of business and you don’t get your item. I’m not talking about companies intentionally low-balling to get a contract. I’m talking about things that BOTH parties thought would be easier than they turned out to be in reality.

      • Kelly Starks

        Couple issues.

        First voters demand pork from NASA, about 80%-90% of support for any NASA mission or project is for the pork kickback those voters get.

        Second as to “And once payloads are determined, contractors will get paid *only* when they deliver”, virtually all the cost of the flights is in the upfront dev and overhead costs. The flights themselves cost very little. So you have to pay the contractors pretty much all the cost before the first flight.

    • Robbie

      I would cancel the SLS and order them to immediately begin work on developing a full fledged flyback booster using the new F-1B engine.

    • Robbie

      I would order them to immediately begin work on developing a full fledged flyback booster using the new F-1B engine, and have them repurpose the core stage of the SLS as the second stage. I would have them put the RS-25 engines in a reentry/recovery pod like they studied for the Shuttle-C since adding wings to the second stage would take a huge chunk out of the payload fraction.

  • Robbie

    @Scottlowther:disqus, really nice work on APR V1N2. NASA should seriously resurrect the flyback S-IC. They won’t I know, but I can dream right?

  • Kelly Starks

    That’s pretty much standard on NASA FAR contracts. 4 to 1 vers the same thing done commercial. Military is 3 to 1.
    Reminds me of the congressional hearings no the $100 hammer etc. To their horror congress found the companies charged $1 for the tools, and congress critters in the hearing had ordered $99 worth of auditor overhead to make sure they weren’t overcharged on the $1 tools.