March 2, 2022

NEVER BEFORE HAVE SO MANY SPENT SO MUCH ON SO LITTLE: Finally, we know production costs for SLS and Orion, and they’re wild.

Appearing before a House Science Committee hearing on NASA’s Artemis program, Martin revealed the operational costs of the big rocket and spacecraft for the first time. Moreover, he took aim at NASA and particularly its large aerospace contractors for their “very poor” performance in developing these vehicles.

Martin said that the operational costs alone for a single Artemis launch—for just the rocket, Orion spacecraft, and ground systems—will total $4.1 billion. This is, he said, “a price tag that strikes us as unsustainable.” With this comment, Martin essentially threw down his gauntlet and said NASA cannot have a meaningful exploration program based around SLS and Orion at this cost.

You don’t say.


Later in the hearing, Martin broke down the costs per flight, which will apply to at least the first four launches of the Artemis program: $2.2 billion to build a single SLS rocket, $568 million for ground systems, $1 billion for an Orion spacecraft, and $300 million to the European Space Agency for Orion’s Service Module. NASA, Martin said, had checked and confirmed these figures.

What is striking about these costs is that they do not include the tens of billions of dollars that NASA has already spent developing the Orion spacecraft since 2005 and the Space Launch System rocket since 2011. If one were to amortize development costs over 10 flights of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, the $4.1 billion figure cited by Martin would easily double.

I figured NASA would get one, maybe two flights out of SLS/Orion — just to avoid admitting a total cesspit of waste and failure — but this report brings even that minuscule effort into doubt.

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