SLS Briefing — Live Blogging!

Briefing Participants:

William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate
Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for HEO
Beth Robinson, NASA Chief Financial Officer

12:02 EDT: Waiting for the briefing to begin….some guitar heavy, Latin influenced instrumental music…

Here we go…..

William Gerstenmaier

  • 8.4 meter diameter core stage — same size as the shuttle tank – compatible with facilities at Cape, with tech developed for Constellation
  • shuttle main engines — three engines initially, grow to five engines
  • build upper stage and rest of rocket at the same time — commonality between the core and the upper stage — if they don’t need upper stage, can fly without it….don’t have to design upper stage at a later time….can use the same tooling….
  • SRBs used for the first and maybe second test flight….will compete with full-up procurement activity for liquid boosters….
  • plan to build the core and be able to change the strap-on boosters….
  • starts with 90 MT capability and grows to 130 MT with bigger boosters and upper stage
  • J-2X upper stage developed for Constellation program
  • early version will use off-the-shelf space shuttle main engines
  • other existing technologies such as space shuttle plumbing could be used

Question: Adequate amount to build the rocket? What about long-term costs?

William Gerstenmaier

  • roughly $3 billion per year through 2017 for core system, MPCV and ground-based system
    $18 billion ($3 billion x 6 years)
  • part of the human rating is the first uncrewed flight
  • can still do some very dynamic missions with 70 MT — needs 130 MT vehicle to do some of the more ambitious missions

Question: Is this rocket really supported?

William Gerstenmaier

  • We’ve been through a thorough process
  • I think we have a really sound configuration here
  • Stakeholders resonate with it — a flexible program moving forward, can deal with budget changes
  • Feels there is some really strong support

Doug Cooke

  • We’ve briefed this to OMB, the White House and Congress — has strong political support

Question: When will we see an exploration road map?

William Gerstenmaier

  • This is a really strong capability to get BEO
  • have been working on various mission architectures and looking at targets for exploration that we’ll be refining over the next year

Question: How are you doing the modifications to existing contracts?

William Gerstenmaier

  • Procurement strategy being developed this week
  • Plan to release that strategy to industry next Friday, Sept. 23
  • Industry Day planned planned for Sept. 29
  • Can’t modify contracts within the next week or so (as Sen. Hutchison said earlier today)….however, will begin that process over the next week

Question: When will competition for upgraded strap on boosters?

William Gerstenmaier

  • Need to design the core stage to accommodate any strap-on booster — different requirements for solids vs. liquid…
  • Have built flexibility into the plan to deal with changes in budget…

Question: Why did this take so long? Why couldn’t you have put it out earlier to avoid layoffs planned for this month?

William Gerstenmaier

  • worked as hard as we could to get the plan out as soon as possible
  • a major engineering challenge
  • a very big commitment by the government….needed time to get it right

Question: What happens if you start running into budget shortfalls?

William Gerstenmaier

  • will focus on meeting the 2017 deadline for the first test flight
  • if there are budget limitations, will slow down work done after 2017

Question: How do you control costs? What is impact on commercial programs?

William Gerstenmaier

  • using off-the-shelf space shuttle main engines for the first flights
  • may use some of the plumbing from the shuttle
  • building this extended tank is not going to be easy — larger diameter tank than on Ares V
  • use modern machining on the tank — different approach than the way space shuttle tanks were built
  • boosters on the side are pretty attractive things to build for commercial companies

Question: What is the Orion schedule? Would you consider flying with crew on first test flight? Will you test Orion first on another vehicle first (Delta IV or Liberty)?

William Gerstenmaier

  • Prefer to test unmanned first — too many things to be concerned about trying to fly with people on first flight
  • Will do an abort test first without a crew on another vehicle
  • Looking at options for flying uncrewed Orion on a Delta IV to test high-speed re-entry —  will consider what can be gained and what the costs will be for doing that type of a test

And the press briefing is over….