NASA is preparing to sign a contract for the purchase of SLS launches

In the near future, NASA plans to change the scheme of work with the superheavy SLS rocket. Instead of directly buying the carrier itself, as it is being done now, the aerospace administration will purchase launch services from a joint enterprise of Boeing and Northrop Grumman. This is evidenced by recently published NASA documents.

The SLS rocket is on the launch pad. Source: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

To date, the SLS is the only rocket directly owned by NASA. Its components are purchased from manufacturers (the first and second stages from Boeing, side boosters from Northrop Grumman), after which engineers are engaged in their testing, assembly and preparation for launch. However, in the near future, NASA is going to change the scheme of work and switch to the scheme when the launch service itself is purchased instead of the rocket. It will be acquired from Deep Space Transport, a joint enterprise that will be created by Boeing and Northrop Grumman. 

According to the published documents, the base contract of NASA and Deep Space Transport will cover the missions from Artemis V to Artemis IX. It can be extended for five more Artemis missions (until 2036) and for ten other missions not related to this program. Deep Space Transport will also be able to sell launch services to other customers. 

So far, NASA has not disclosed the estimated cost of the contract with Deep Space Transport. But according to the statements of the organization’s representatives, they hope that the new scheme will reduce the cost of launching SLS by 50% or even more — to the level of 1 – 1.5 billion dollars. In addition, NASA believes that in order to reduce the cost, it makes no sense to transfer the production of rocket components to other enterprises. According to the estimates of the aerospace administration, the development of the production of SLS stages by a third-party company will take ten years, solid-fuel accelerators — nine years, RS-25 engines — up to seven years.

The RS-25 engine mounted on the first stage of the SLS rocket. Source: NASA

At the same time, it is worth noting that the authors of last year’s report published by the Office of the Inspector General of NASA were very skeptical about the prospect of achieving any significant reduction in the cost of SLS. According to the auditors, one launch of a superheavy rocket will cost NASA USD 2.2 billion. If we add to this the cost of the Orion spacecraft, as well as ground systems, this figure will grow to USD 4.1 billion.

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