back to article Boots on Moon? Well, the boot part is right: Audit of NASA's Space Launch System reveals more delays, cost overruns

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has pulled on the hobnailed boots to deliver an almighty kicking to the US space agency over its Space Launch System (SLS). Published yesterday, the audit (PDF) pulls no punches in its description of the challenges faced by NASA in its attempt to get the monster rocket up and running …

  1. BillG
    Joke

    I'm Shocked, Shocked!

    Audit of NASA's Space Launch System reveals more delays, cost overruns

    What?!?!? A government program that is behind schedule and over-budget?!??

    That's NEVER happened before!!!!

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Well, let's see....

    Companies involved..to big to fail mentality.

    Lots of staff with lots of meetings that accomplish nothing.

    Lots of middle mangagement who do nothing but count the beans and enforce petty work rules.

    Want to make as much profit as they can.

    Creativity left the building a long time ago.

    About normal I'd say.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "somebody needs to officially tell Congress"

    that the "deliver sacks of cash to Boeing" plan is exceeding expectations? Pretty sure they already know.

    "So the excuse generator said 'moon rocket' this time? Huh, maybe we should use that one again."

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "somebody needs to officially tell Congress"

      Congress? How many CongressCritters are in the pocket of them from "campaign donations? Snowballs chance in hell of them doing anything.

      1. JCitizen
        FAIL

        Re: "somebody needs to officially tell Congress"

        Yep, and just like the same companies have done to NASA since the old moon program, it is just one cost over run and another. Business as usual. If NASA wanted to get to the moon on time and on budget, it would be more likely to just let Space - X do it.

  4. Adair Silver badge

    Boondoggle

    (see title)

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Boondoggle

      Moonboggle would be more accurate?

      1. steelpillow Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Boondoggle

        I vote for Moondoggle

  5. HildyJ Silver badge
    Flame

    Expect nothing less

    The watchdog reports and the article failed to mention that the SLS is highly technically crafted . . . to reelect Congressmen.

    Life so many over budget and delayed US government programs, the SLS has components being built in every significant Congressional player's district. The delays will be accepted and the budget will go up because Congressmen are not going back to their constituents to tell them their plant's shutting down because SpaceX is cheaper.

    1. TeraTelnet

      Re: Expect nothing less

      Wrong House, I think - it isn't nicknamed the 'Senate Launch System' for nothing.

  6. Elledan

    White Eleph^WRocket

    Thing about the SLS is that no one with a clue would really expect that thing to ever fly. The 'SLS program' essentially raided museums for some Shuttle-era hardware and duct-taped it to some other bits and pieces that were still lying around back from the days when NASA and contractors still did something with rockets. Even the development plan (blocks) looks ridiculous in so many ways when one keeps in mind that they're essentially using 1970s-era technology.

    When one looks at nations like China and India, along with private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin developing new engines and coherent designs that already include or will include some kind of reusability in the near future, the difference couldn't be more stark.

    My prediction is that there will never be an SLS launch, at least not with actual humans in the capsule. The program will drag out for another 10-20 years until it's taken out back because the Senate Lubrication System will have fulfilled its purpose. A purpose that never included space travel. This might actually be the thing that finishes off NASA for good, after decades of budget cuts.

    Maybe I'm just overly skeptical, though.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: White Eleph^WRocket

      SLS can get cancelled but it will just come back with a new name.

      It used to be called the Constellation Program. The Altair Lunar Lander + Ascent vehicle was properly cancelled but is now back. The Orion capsule survived the renaming and has actually been launched and landed. The Ares I (human rated launch vehicle) and Ares V (big cargo launcher) got merged into SLS preserving the contracts with the important contractors but it requires launching crew and cargo together so you have the expense of human rating a big cargo launcher with solid rocket boosters and the benefit of being too wimpy for a complete Moon mission so it requires the Luna tollbooth gateway.

      When SLS gets cancelled the replacement will need the word "Re-usable" somewhere in its acronym. The obvious technical solution would be to genetically engineer a drove of flying entelodonts but that does not fit the requirement of funding the preferred contractors. Congress would probably go for something more expensive like a Hillercopter.

      1. AdamT

        Re: White Eleph^WRocket

        Not sure if it is still their plan but at one point Boeing were planning that their main booster engines would separate and parachute back to be caught by a helicopter...

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: Hillercopter

        A giant helicopter to "catch" a falling rocket stage "in midair". Great idea, that. I'll sure be interested to learn how exactly a helicopter of any size is going to maneuver to get close to the falling rocket stage, wait until it falls below the rotor blades, then reach terminal speed to catch up to the rocket stage and "catch" it, all the while having enough height to not crater the whole thing.

        Not to mention that helicopters are rather limited in their cargo capacity. Or that they are rather inherently unstable, and suddenly adding an ungainly, gigantic, non-aerodynamic lump to its mass is not going to help any either.

        Edit : okay, parachute. The drawing does not show that, you have to get to the second paragraph before it is mentioned. With a parachute, it just might be feasible, but I'll wager it would still be very dangerous. It's not hard to find videos of helicopters with cargo underneath tipping and crashing, and the cargo isn't a rocket stage either.

      3. Julz Silver badge

        Re: White Eleph^WRocket

        Thank you for the Hillercopter reference, fascinating. I can see the Thunderbirds episode play in my minds eye. Gordon is lowered onto the hub of the stricken craft as the four blades whoosh around powered by clusters of jets at their tips. Will he make it, or will he be minced.

  7. ShadowDragon8685

    We are, effectively, caught in a socio-economic trap that prevents us from Getting Shit Done anymore.

    I reckon a massive part of the problem is pork: "for the greater good of humanity/the United States" does not get votes, "for the sake of keeping The Plant open" does. So everyone wants a rider, everyone wants a slice of the pie.

    Another massive part of the problem is typical inefficiencies: Peter-Principled manglement, predictable-but-unaccounted-for cost overruns, endless TPS reports, etc, etc, etc.

    And then ANOTHER massive part of the problem is the well-intentioned pavement machine on the road to hell: someone comes along, screams "FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY!" and axes entire projects just when they're starting to actually show some progress and might deliver a workable rocketry program, albeit overbudget and behind schedule, because they're mistakenly applying the "don't chase a sunk cost fallacy" principle to a real-world problem in which the cost IS in fact sunk, cannot be unsank, but even an overbudget and overdue project which will actually provide you with a launch capability is better than NOT HAVING ONE AT ALL.

    But before anybody starts wanking the "private sector solution," may I remind you that every time mass transit has been nationalized in the UK, it's ended in an utter disaster. Businesses have the requirement to fellate the almighty shareholders, which requirement perverts EVERYTHING, from burying scientific research that doesn't give the right answers, to mistreating bottom-line workers, to manglement fudging numbers and taking ridiculous and big-picture-counterproductive actions in the name of preserving THEIR bonus.

    Now project that forward to space travel: without something like strict regulations preventing it, businesses will be free to leverage their space assets in ways that stifle competition. Once they've escaped the government reach, they'll set up feudal fiefdoms, start up all the old indenture malarkey, prevent access to space except on their terms - basically all the dystopian bullshit. And if the governments just throw up their hands and let the private sector do all the launching, who's going to hold them to account? You can't very well enforce laws on a company based in space if they're the ones who determine who goes to space and they can just say "we're not carrying your lawmen up to enforce laws against us no matter how much money you dangle."

    So yes, by all means, let's rush to excoriate the dumbfucks responsible for constantly letting programs get overbudget, off-track, and then axing them, but let's not rush to beat the SpaceX marching beat, unless you really fancy seeing CEO-for-life Musk ruling over a Moon and Mars monopoly wherein your pointy-haired boss decides that because you got sick they're going to cut your hours - not your working hours, your fresh oxygen hours.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      even an overbudget and overdue project which will actually provide you with a launch capability is better than NOT HAVING ONE AT ALL.

      I'd like to disagree here. The Space Shuttle (while iconic) cost over $1 billion per launch. As a direct result, there were only 131 shuttle launches before it was grounded the last time.

      The currently used Soyuz rocket costs something like $20-40 million per launch, and as a result has done 727 launches, 708 of were successful at a cost of $15-$30 billion. The shuttle projects 131 launches cost $209 billion.

      The only conclusion a rational person can come to is that the Shuttle was a disaster from a cost effectiveness basis, and the ability to get things to orbit. It's replacement via NASA does not appear to be likely to do much better.

      But before anybody starts wanking the "private sector solution," may I remind you that every time mass transit has been nationalized in the UK, it's ended in an utter disaster.

      Who built the railways in the first place? Ah yes, that'll be the private sector. It was nationalised along with everything else with a union when that was in fashion after WW2 and privatized when it'd been reduced to a state where hardly anybody wanted to use it and it was losing money hand over fist.

      Currently by far and away the best option to get to orbit is SpaceX. Yes, SpaceX needs competition because monopolies are always awful for everybody, and they probably need international regulation to keep them from doing absurd things. But, this is the situation that exists; the private sector has delivered a rocket that can take off, and most of it can then land again and be reused. Unless NASA can duplicate this tech they can't get within orders of magnitude of the cost effectiveness.

      1. BillG
        FAIL

        @Peter2 wrote:

        I'd like to disagree here. The Space Shuttle (while iconic) cost over $1 billion per launch.

        According to NASA an average shuttle launch cost $450 Million. A straight resupply mission to the ISS would have cost less.

        The currently used Soyuz rocket costs something like $20-40 million per launch

        The exact cost of the launch is unknown as the Russians do not publish official figures but a guesstimate is $120 Million. According to El Reg the cost to a nation or individual that wants a seat is currently $86 Million. [ref]

        In November 2019 a report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General estimated NASA will pay $90 million a seat to fly with Boeing and $55 million a seat to fly with SpaceX.

      2. ShadowDragon8685

        > But, this is the situation that exists; the private sector has delivered a rocket that can take off, and most of it can then land again and be reused. Unless NASA can duplicate this tech they can't get within orders of magnitude of the cost effectiveness.

        IF that's the case, then what needs to happen is as follows:

        Eminent Domain is invoked, SpaceX is forcibly transferred from its private investors to the government, and appropriate compensation is forcibly transferred from the government to its private investors. All SpaceX documentation, technologies, and facilities get a NASA makeover, probably with a nod to the leaps it made as SpaceX by, I dunno, calling it the NASA-X branch.

        NASA-X is thereafter remodeled as a government-owned corporation, operating exactly as before; only instead of THE ALMIGHTY SHAREHOLDERS it's the United States Federal Government that owns it, and instead of DIVIDENDS and STOCK PRICE, the focus is on providing as-cheap-and-effective launch capability as possible for "benefit of mankind" projects, and reasonably-priced launch services to the private sector - just like the USPS SHOULD be operating, if not for that absurd and "we don't want the gubmint option competing with the private option" financial overburden placed on the USPS alone to make it uncompetitive with DHL/Poop Truck/etc.

        If it starts fucking up, the GAO comes in and launches a discovery mission: if it's the result of mis-manglement, the axe comes down on the manglers, new management is hired. If prevailing conditions simply are not generating profit, you grit your teeth, suck it up, and subsidize the lean times from the fat times and the government purse.

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 © 1998–2020