Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Space Launch System Independent Review Online

SpaceRef.com has posted the executive summary of the Space Launch System independent cost analysis performed by Booz Allen Hamilton.

Click here to read the report.

The report concludes:

The cost estimates prepared by the [Space Launch System (SLS), Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and 21st Century Ground System (21CGS)] Programs are consistent with pre-concept, AoA-phase estimates and thus are not suitable for long-term budget formulation or the development of Program baselines. NASA should treat the estimates as serviceable point estimates for budget planning in the near-term 3-5 year budget horizon as they represent the basis upon which future estimates can be constructed. Due to unjustified, sometimes substantial, assumed future cost savings; the ICA Team views each Program’s estimate as optimistic. Reserve levels were not based on a quantitative risk analysis and do not cover each Program’s Protect Scenario. Furthermore, each Protect Scenario excludes estimating uncertainty and unknown-unknown risks, which history indicates are major sources of cost growth on programs. Due to procurement of items still in development and large cost risks in the out years, NASA cannot have full confidence in the estimates for long-term planning.

On August 19, Republican Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison issued a press release demanding that NASA immediately announce the Space Launch System design. Hutchison claimed:

I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months — that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately.

Read the report. It says no such thing.

Think she'll issue a retraction and apology? No, I don't think so either.

UPDATE August 24, 2011SpaceFlightNow.com and Florida Today report on the analysis.

UPDATE August 24, 2011 2:45 PM EDT — Reflecting further on this analysis ... Aviation Week reported last January 19 that based on initial SLS cost estimates:

Engineers and managers at NASA are sure to change their new reference vehicle designs for the government’s next heavy-lift and human-spaceflight vehicles, because they’re already saying they don’t have enough money to carry them out. But key senators are insisting that they do.

Congress and President Barack Obama authorized $6.9 billion over the next three years to develop a new heavy-lift space launch system (SLS), and another $3.92 billion for a multipurpose crew vehicle (MPCV). They also set a Dec. 31, 2016, deadline for “operational capability.” NASA says the funding won’t cover it.

Members of the Senate space subcommittee reacted angrily to the preliminary report.

“I talked to [Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “And . . . within the budget the law requires . . .”

“NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works,” the senators say in a joint bipartisan statement. “We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

The Orlando Sentinel reported on August 5, "According to preliminary NASA estimates, it would cost between $17 billion and $22 billion to ready the new rocket and Orion capsule for a test flight in December 2017 that would put an unmanned capsule into a lunar orbit."

Based on the above, this would seem to suggest that Booz Allen believes NASA's estimates for the next three to five years are accurate, but beyond that are optimistic. If so, then it seems that Booz Allen is supporting NASA's January contention that Congressional funding for SLS is way too low, and that the Senate space subcommittee must come to grips with reality.

UPDATE August 25, 2011 — In the wake of the Progress 44 loss, Senator Hutchison has issued a press release demanding SLS construction begin — even though SLS has nothing to do with the International Space Station.

She also falsely claimed that the Booz Allen analysis concluded the SLS "can be initiated within our currently constrained fiscal limitations," when the report appears to state the opposite.

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