NASA, Boeing provide details about Space Launch System contract
SpaceFlight Insider is pleased to take some of our viewers’ questions directly to those who can answer them. One of our readers recently asked the questions below about NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System or “SLS.” Their questions dealt primarily with how NASA’s contract with Boeing breaks down in terms of the number of flights, as well as how the amount allocated under SLS’ contract breaks down in terms of subcontractors.
SpaceFlight Insider has strong ties with most space-related organizations in the business. We contacted some of our sources at Boeing and ATK and took these questions directly to them. NASA representatives spoke with SFI and provided the following information regarding SLS’ contract.
Does Boeing have a contract with NASA for flights of SLS beyond the 2017 test flight? If so, how many more? – “Boeing is on contract with NASA for two flights until 2021.”
Under Boeing’s agreement with NASA, does Boeing handle the subcontractors fees under the agreement – or is the amount Boeing will be paid separate from what the subcontractors are paid? – “Yes, Boeing is responsible for overall contract performance, to include subcontract management and payment of subcontract costs (inclusive of any fees).”
Given ATK has a major role in building SLS, will the $2.8 billion contract includes the subcontractors, to include ATK – or is the amount they are paid separate from this? – “Payment of any Stages-related ATK subcontract cost is covered in the Stages contract with prime contractor Boeing. That being said, ATK is also considered a prime contractor to NASA for the boosters and that is under a separate contract.”
What is the total cost of one SLS rocket? – “As part of its Key Decision Point-B review, NASA estimated preliminary SLS development and operations costs of between $7.65 and $8.59 billion through the first non-crewed launch of SLS in 2017.”
As noted, the first flight of SLS is currently on schedule to launch in 2017. This is planned to be an uncrewed test flight of the SLS booster itself, along with an Orion spacecraft. Orion is currently set to undertake its first test flight in December of this year atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The space agency along with the contractors and subcontractors will test out various systems relating to the duo before the first crewed test flight is carried out in 2021. Due to budget constraints, NASA is unable to conducting a testing regimen similar to that seen during the Apollo era.
The U.S. space program has been split into two distinct efforts. The first involves ceding the delivery of crew and cargo to the only current low-Earth-orbit destination, the International Space Station to private companies. The second element involves the use of SLS and Orion to send crews to orbits beyond the orbit of Earth. These include a diverse array of targets which currently include an asteroid, potential locations such as a Lagrange Point or the Martian moon Phobos with the primary target being a crewed mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.