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The Space Launch System was created as part of a political compromise between US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and senators from Alabama and Texas.
Enlarge / The Space Launch System was created as half of a political compromise between US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and senators from Alabama and Texas.

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For the first time, a authorities cost estimate of constructing and flying a single Space Launch System rocket in a given yr has been launched. This estimate of “over $2 billion” got here in the kind of a letter from the White House to the Senate Appropriations Committee first reported by Ars this week.

In the practically decade-long growth of the SLS rocket, NASA officers have studiously averted offering a so-called “production and operations” cost. This is partly as a result of it may be tough to estimate flight prices throughout growth, but additionally very doubtless as a result of doing so may give lawmakers who’ve backed the venture some measure of sticker shock. After all, a totally expendable model of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which has two-thirds of the raise capability of a Block 1 model of the SLS rocket, may be purchased right this moment for $150 million.

After publication of the White House letter, the company did not deny the estimate that producing and flying one SLS rocket in a given yr—which is the manufacturing capability core stage contractor Boeing might be able to attain by the early 2020s—can be greater than $2 billion. The first SLS launch might are available 2021.

“NASA is working to bring down the cost of a single SLS launch in a given year as the agency continues negotiations with Boeing on the long-term production contract and efforts to finalize contracts and costs for other elements of the rocket,” an company spokesperson, Kathryn Hambleton, advised Ars.

Don’t overlook growth prices

The White House quantity seems to incorporate each the “marginal” cost of constructing a single SLS rocket in addition to the “fixed” prices of sustaining a standing military of hundreds of staff and a whole lot of suppliers throughout the nation. Building a second SLS rocket annually would make the per-unit cost “significantly less,” Hambleton stated.

What the White House cost estimate did not embrace, nevertheless, was growth prices. Since 2011, Congress has appropriated roughly $2 billion per yr for the “development” of the SLS rocket (this does not embrace a whole lot of thousands and thousands of {dollars} spent yearly on floor methods “development” for the rocket at Kennedy Space Center). If these prices are amortized over 10 launches of the SLS car throughout the 2020, the per-flight cost can be roughly $four billion per flight.

Moreover, that is only for the SLS rocket’s core stage, side-mounted boosters, and a primary higher stage. Developing and including the Exploration Upper Stage will add a whole lot of thousands and thousands of extra {dollars}. Then there’s the cost of the Orion spacecraft, which NASA not too long ago valued at roughly $750 million for the first six missions.

Adding all of this up, the true cost of a Space Launch System mission with Orion on prime in the 2020s, together with the rocket’s growth however excluding floor methods and Orion growth prices, seems to be in the ballpark of $5 billion per flight. Let’s hope the astronauts are served extra than simply pretzels after takeoff.

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