For the first time, an estimate of government costs for the construction and flight of a single rocket of the space-launching system was released in a given year. This "over $ 2 billion" estimate came in the form of a White House letter to the Senate Committee on Resources, first reported this week by Ars.
In the nearly decade-long development of the SLS rocket, NASA officials have been diligently avoiding providing so-called "production and operating costs". This is partly due to the difficulty of estimating the cost of flights during development, but it is also very likely because it could give a degree of sticker shock to the legislators who supported the project. After all, today can buy a fully consumable version of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which has two thirds of the capacity of a block 1 version of the SLS rocket, for $ 150 million .
When publishing the White House letter, the agency did not dispute the estimate that the production and flight of a SLS rocket in a given year, which could reach Boeing as prime contractor for production capacity by the early 2020s, more than $ 2 billion will be $ 1 billion. The first SLS launch could take place in 2021.
"NASA is seeking to reduce the cost of a single SLS launch in a given year as the agency continues negotiations with Boeing over the long-term production contract and efforts to conclude contracts for other elements of the rocket" A spokeswoman for the agency, Kathryn Hambleton, told Ars.
Do not Forget Development Costs
The White House figure seems to include both the "marginal cost" of building a single SLS rocket and the "fixed" cost of doing so maintaining a permanent army of thousands of employees and hundreds of suppliers across the country. Building a second SLS rocket per year would "significantly lower unit costs," Hambleton said. Since 2011, Congress has provided approximately $ 2 billion a year for the "development" of the SLS rocket (this does not include hundreds of millions of dollars annually spent on the "development" of missile ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center be issued). If these costs are amortized over 10 launches of the SLS vehicle in 2020, the cost per flight will be approximately $ 4 billion per flight.
This also applies only to the core level of the SLS rocket, the side-mounted booster and a basic upper level. The development and expansion of the Upper Stage exploration will add hundreds of millions of additional dollars. Add to this the cost of the Orion spacecraft, which NASA recently estimated for the first six missions worth around $ 750 million.
Including rocket development, but without ground systems and Orion development costs, the ballpark appears to cost $ 5 billion per flight. Let's hope that the astronauts will be served more than just pretzels after the start.