For the first time, a government estimate of the cost of building and flying a Space Launch System missile has been released in a given year. That estimate of "over $ 2 billion" came in the form of a letter from the White House to the Senate Appropriations Committee, first reported by Ars this week.
In the nearly decade of development of the SLS rocket, NASA staff have been diligently avoiding providing so-called manufacturing and operations costs. In part, this may be because it may be difficult to calculate flight costs during development, but it is also very likely because it may give legislators who support the project some measure of a shock sticker. After all, a fully exhaustive version of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which has two-thirds the load capacity of Block 1 SLS rocket version 1, can be purchased today for $ 150 million .
Following the publication of the White House letter, the agency did not deny that the production and launch of a single SLS rocket in a given year – which is the main stage of production capacity that Boeing could reach by early 2020 – would is more than $ 2 billion. SLS's first launch may come in 2021.
"NASA is working to reduce the cost of one SLS start in a given year as the agency continues to negotiate with Boeing a long-term production contract and efforts to finalize contracts and costs for other elements of the missile, "agency spokeswoman Catherine Hambleton told Ars.
Remember development costs
The White House number seems to include both the "marginal" costs of building a single SLS rocket as well as the "fixed" costs of maintaining a standing army of thousands of employees and hundreds of suppliers nationwide. Building a second SLS rocket every year would make unit cost "significantly less," Hambleton said.
What the White House's cost estimate does not include, however, are development costs. allocates approximately 2 billion ore annually for the “development” of the SLS rocket (this does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually for the “development” of ground-based missile systems at the Kennedy Space Center). By 2020, the cost of the flight will be approximately $ 4 billion per flight.
In addition, this is only for the SLS rocket main stage, mounted side amplifiers, and the main upper stage. Developing and adding the above research phase will add hundreds of millions more dollars. Then there is the cost of the Orion spacecraft, which NASA recently estimated at approximately $ 750 million for its first six missions.
Adding all this, the true cost of a 2020 Orion Space Missile mission, including rocket development, but excluding Orion ground systems and development costs, appears to be at the base of $ 5 billion. on the flight. Hopefully, the astronauts are served more than just the bagels after takeoff.