back to article NASA spanks $34bn on a disposable rocket – likely to top $50bn by 2024 moon landing

NASA's Office of the Inspector General has emitted a report (PDF) yesterday that made for difficult reading for agency bigwigs, as the bean counters made clear the challenges presented by the agency's headlong rush to the Moon. As NASA has lurched from one presidential goal to another over the last decade (the latest being the …

  1. OssianScotland Silver badge
    Coat

    then the dates for subsequent missions may drift to the right

    Well, the republicans should be quite happy with that...

    Coat, please.... yes, with the rocket in the pocket...

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Go

      Re: then the dates for subsequent missions may drift to the right

      Jerry Lee Lewis wants to know if the fuse is lit on that rocket in your pocket. And those lyrics are not Freudian at all...

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: then the dates for subsequent missions may drift to the right

      Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss Scotland

      We're sorry to report that your coat (and rocket) have been inadvertently sent out for dry cleaning. We regret the error, but you have to admit, they were pretty grungy. We expect them back in 2024 or 2025 or maybe 2026. The fee will be around $8B US. Or maybe a bit more.

      In the meantime, we can lend you some burlap sacks to protect you from the weather.

      Sincerely,

      NASA

      Your business and continued support are very important to us.

      1. OssianScotland Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: then the dates for subsequent missions may drift to the right

        Dr Scotland, if you wish to be formal....

        ... and any grunge on my coat or my rocket is entirely my own business (and obviously only involves consenting adults)

  2. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Disposable

    Every gram of weight on a rocket is expensive. Carrying up a set of landing legs and fuel to land a rocket gently back on the Earth is a massive number of those grams. By some estimates, SpaceX needs and additional 45% of capability on the Falcon 9 to land the boosters. They weren't the first to do this and since they are private, there aren't any hard numbers on profitability. Even SpaceX drop the husks in the ocean when they fly a payload that takes everything the rocket can give due to weight (mass)/ distance.

    The Senate Launch System (SLS) was dictated by politicians so it was going to be fantastically expensive from the gate. The low cadence of flights makes it even more expensive and should have been based on a modular design so the core vehicle could be useful for more missions. That said, a permanent base on the moon could yield a tremendous amount of science that is useful in the near future as well as down the road. What better place could there be if you are researching Ebola or another dangerous virus?

    I hope that the world gets on board with setting up facilities on the moon with governments priming the pump for commercial companies to slowly take over as time goes on.

    1. Richard Boyce

      Re: Disposable

      "What better place could there be if you are researching Ebola or another dangerous virus?"

      Earth orbit would be better than a lunar base for that. It's cheaper and more expendible. Plus we already have the ISS. I also think that a purpose-built level 4 containment lab on Earth would be better still.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: Disposable

        I agree. Sure, would I like to see Marburg, Ebola and other nasty bugs off the Earth--yes. Is it in any way realistic to actually completely remove these contagions from this planet--no. Does the cost of a properly built, equipped and staffed level 4 containment lab, plus the cost of getting all that structure, equipment and personnel into space and sustaining it there make any sense--absolutely not.

        Hell, if we are researching bugs that are really so horrifying that we cannot safely do that near even rural population densities, then put your level 4 containment facility on Baffin Island or Antarctica. Even with special ice-certified supply ships, supply aircraft, enormous pay packages to keep the needed researchers living in a frozen back of beyond and spending a lot of money to build and maintain a facility that can stand up to an arctic environment, it would still be cheap versus trying to do that in space.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Coat

          "Does the cost of a properly built, equipped and staffed level 4 containment lab, "

          And AFAIK the UK has 8 of them*

          It's not a lab coat. Lab coats are insufficient at level 4.

          *I'm not sure why. Most major European countries seem to have about one each.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Disposable

          "a lot of money to build and maintain a facility that can stand up to an arctic environment, it would still be cheap versus trying to do that in space."

          Best to do it in the Antarctic. Then it can double up as somewhere to evacuate to when the icecaps melt. (for the elites, of course.)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Disposable

        "What better place could there be if you are researching Ebola or another dangerous virus?"

        Just about anywhere that doesn't involve putting a lethal virus in a rocket and shooting it into the sky, while hoping it doesn't come apart unexpectedly.

    2. Any other name

      Re: Disposable

      What better place could there be if you are researching Ebola or another dangerous virus?

      The answer is "almost anywhere on Earth".

      The cost of building a bio-security level 4 laboratory, specifically design to safely contain pathogens like Ebola and Marburg virii, is much less than the expense of a single SLS launch. (The now-disappeared NIIAD bio-security FAQ was giving USD 105M as the cost, which is probably an underestimation, but is likely the right order of magnitude.) Add to that the risk of a launch accident spreading the infectious materials across populated areas, and the equation tilts further towards the ground-based facilities.

      1. NeilPost Bronze badge

        Re: Disposable

        Quite. See World War Z or The Passage as evidence here :-)

    3. TaabuTheCat

      Re: Disposable

      What better place? Check this out: https://www.k-state.edu/nbaf/

      NBAF is BSL4 - this one's for animal disease, but at $1.25B you could build a whole bunch of these for a fraction of what NASA is spending.

    4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Disposable

      "That said, a permanent base on the moon could yield a tremendous amount of science that is useful in the near future as well as down the road."

      I imagine most of any science that could be done could be done more cheaply by robots.

      Although, I admit, science that might not otherwise be funded will happen because we have people up there and we need to find something sciency for them to do.

      1. Brangdon

        Re: Disposable

        Humans are much better at doing science than robots.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Disposable

          But it's a lot more expensive to get humans to places outside of our atmosphere, and they tend to be fussy about things like 'heat' and 'air'.

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
            Terminator

            Re: Disposable

            Damned humans, always griping about "food" and "sleep".

    5. fishman

      Re: Disposable

      As I understand it, every 4-5 lbs added to the booster takes away 1 lb from the payload. If you try to recover the second stage, every lb added to the second stage takes away 1 lb from the payload. Since the fairings are ejected very early in the second stage engine firing, any weight added to the the farings for recovery would decrease the payload with a slightly higher penalty than added weight to the booster.

  3. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Disposables should always be discarded after a trip to Uranus

  4. Chris G Silver badge

    Context

    The cost for the Gerald Ford carrier was $37 billion for 2018 so the advances and al the research carried out by NASA is pretty good value for money compared to that.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Context

      good observation. Keep in mind ALSO that, unless overseas components are used, every single penny spent by NASA will translate to people's income and purchase of equipment from U.S. based companies. Of course if a UK company were making "a thing" that was compellingly competitive, I'd say "go for it" but I suspect there's an 'America First' requirement in there someplace...

      (this as opposed to funneling the money through bureaucracies into the hands of NON-working people, who would then produce NOTHING in exchange for all that cash - at least with NASA we get rockets and R&D and technological advancement!)

      In any case, from the article:

      "President Donald Trump's arbitrary 2024 deadline"

      Would you have said it "that way" about JFK's "the moon in this decade" speech? Just curious...

      I can imagine it now - 'President John Kennedy's *arbitrary* 1969 deadline' - yeah, not so good.

      Personally I'm glad there's a deadline. Deadlines mean that you stop farting around with "Research" and BUILD SOME DAMN ROCKETS! And GET RESULTS!

      Just like a BUSINESS MAN to GET RESULTS, right?

  5. spold Silver badge

    That's the problem with them rocket prices, they keep going up and up

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Coat

      Well...

      When the sky's the limit...

      Mines the one with the pocket maths tables that gives power to weight ratios of various hard currency...

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    And remeber Boeing is the *safe* pair of hands on Commercial Crew.

    And yet they seem to be progressing no faster than those NKOTB SpaceX. A touch of dementia in the corporate memory perhaps?

    Funny how that works is it not? It's almost as if someone is hoping to cut off supplies to ISS in order to kill it, to release funds for another human spaceflight project.

    And let's not forget that Orion will be the first capsule where NASA couldn't even afford to get the Service Module built in the US on the budget. ESA are providing this as a trade off to continue their access to ISS.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: And remeber Boeing is the *safe* pair of hands on Commercial Crew.

      Such a safe pair of hands that they (allegedly) threatened to pull out unless NASA gave them more money.

      Somehow those newbies at SpaceX seem to be able to provide the exact same service for much less money. Clearly they're not spending enough on bribing lobbying.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    that holiday of a lifetime where you forgot the camera

    Everytime I see a story about the moon I rage at how they could send a moon buggy (1970s tesla) up there for basically a bit of pissing about and somehow fail to send movie quality cameras.

    We have that crap footage of them zooming along with the view a paranoid cyclist has and they could have easily circled the landing craft for a pretty spectacular scene.

    What a bloody waste of time it all was.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      A waste of time ? Hardly.

      First and foremost, it was the most awesome thing Mankind has ever done.

      Second, it birthed many of the technologies we use daily today. You ever had a cordless drill ? You can thank the space race for that.

      Actually, I have no need to say more, just go here, and here and here, and read about all the stuff you wouldn't have if NASA had not gone to the Moon.

      1. The Nazz Silver badge

        Re: A waste of time ? Hardly.

        re Pascals cordless drill.

        Nah, my grandad had a cordless drill yonks (many years) back. Mind you, he had lopsided sized biceps from having to rotate it very hard, or very fast or sometimes both.

  8. sbt Silver badge
    FAIL

    Artemis foul

    It's a waste to spend $50 billion just to repeat yourselves. It should have cost less just to get back to square one. What's putting people on Mars going to cost?

    IIS and JWST are better investments; at least completing the science you've started on IIS, and can't wait to see more detail than Hubble.

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Funding is scarce, politicians think in terms of payoffs within their terms of office and spaceflight is expensive and hard to get right. Next up: The ocean turns out to be wet.

    Kudos for the KSC pix. I will probably be there again in January. Love that place, me.

    Even if the astronauts on site make me feel sad because of the loss of vision at the highest levels for their hard work.

    The US will go back to space in a big way the moment it looks like the other contenders look likely to become the primary presence. China would be my guess. No American president will want to be the one who "Lost Space to the <insert other nation>".

    I'd love to see another consortium of nations get serious about going into the business of manned space stations, moon landings etc. But the money needed is serious, and the stream of it needs to be long-term.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      The US will go back to space in a big way the moment it looks like the other contenders look likely to become the primary presence. China would be my guess. No American president will want to be the one who "Lost Space to the <insert other nation>".

      I would be curious to know if there would be the same urge if the other contenders are private corporations, and whether the US would be happy to let that happen.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "But the money needed is serious, and the stream of it needs to be long-term."

      Or the launch vehicle needs to be able to be bought like an aircraft, without requiring the intimate involvement of the company that builds them to launch it.

      Then any country with the funds can get to space. It'll be cheaper than running their own development programme but not as cheap as an ELV coming off the line (but then it'll have a few 100 launches rather than just one).

      At which point it'll be up to those people who've bought it to use it constructively.

      May the best people win.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: "But the money needed is serious, and the stream of it needs to be long-term."

        Development costs of aircraft, especially those which will be sold to Govt, are supported by tax money "subsidies" if not outright tax money paid-for development programs.

        Even Musk gets tax dollars to defer the costs. Consider, NASA *gave* him a pre-built, fully tested and working launch pad.

        I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just that the Administrative Will is still a major factor.

        Without funding from the public purse it all still comes down around everyone's ears.

  10. John Bryan
    Flame

    Audit farce

    Whilst contained harsh words for NASA, these seemed to be merely to justify the report's existence.

    No request to seriously review the relevance of SLS in light of modern cheaper reusable commercial suppliers.

    No questioning of why the current NASA Moon plans are overly complex and costly and yet do not meet the goal of actually going to the Moon in any meaningful way.

    Though a lot of the blame is Congress members boon-dock requirements. Can't have affordable solutions as that means contractors in their own states might not get a juicy slice of the pie.

    NASA and Congress should just kill off SLS and go for the obvious cheaper and quicker options.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019