The cost of SLS continues to swell, and NASA has launched a new tender to find a partner less spending than Boeing.
In recent years, NASA has started to write a new page in its history; finished, the monolithic institution of the 1960s, the agency now plays the role of a hub in an ecosystem that gives pride of place to the private sector. It has also just launched a new call for tenders, spotted by Interesting Engineering. The goal? Find an industrial partner who can build its Space Launch System at half price!
The SLS will be the armed wing of the future Artemis program, which is due to bring humans back to the moon around 2025. But it has been recognized for some time that the agency will not deal with its design. This task will be delegated to private aerospace; for now, Boeing has taken the lion’s share. As it stands, the firm is supposed to take care of all the central part, with the exception of the engine, the Orion capsule and its mounting bracket.
But when NASA isn’t there, it’s Boeing dancing; the aircraft manufacturer has apparently shown itself to be rather unreliable, with astronomical delays and an explosion in the budget. As it stands, the SLS project has already blithely exceeded ten billion dollars in development alone.
Boeing also explains that it will take around $ 2 billion per SLS launch. A price justified by its status as a pioneer, since it will be the very first copy. But the machine has vocation to be standardized, and to be part of the routine operations of NASA. And for now, the price demanded by Boeing seems incompatible with production on a larger scale.
As a result, NASA is looking for a different partner for the rest of the adventure. Ideally, this should be able to cut that price in half, to reach 1 billion per year. An amount that is still substantial, but more suited to long-term operations. This is an important point, because NASA wants this future partner to commit to making it fly. until the 2050s.
Already obsolete design?
A plan that is not only ambitious, but which seems slightly to against current philosophy, driven by SpaceX and consort. Because today, there is no longer any question of using brute force to send a machine to the Moon at all costs, as we did six times for Apollo. It now seems certain that space will be democratized in the medium term. Reducing costs becomes an absolute priority and this requires new practices. The current trend is therefore more towards recyclable and reusable gear.
However, this is a function for which the SLS simply does not not designed. And by 2050, there is a good chance that this now innovative paradigm will have become a essential standard Of the industry. In this context, the SLS would then have the air of dinosaur, designed in aerospace prehistoric times… Difficult to swallow for a project worth more than 20 billion!
So it will be interesting to see who answers NASA’s call, and how this new collaboration will evolve the agency’s long-term plans. Because even if the SLS is now fully assembled and Artemis is fast approaching, there are still many questions on which we will not be fixed for years!