The House subcommittee held a hearing to “explore” progress in the SLS/Orion program today. Prepared statements can be found here.
Two items stand out, the first is a new definition for affordability offered by Boeing V.P. Jim Chilton, who speaking of modest improvements in processing said, “This will enable the country to finally have access to an exploration class rocket within predicted annual budgets, which we see as a definition of affordability more appropriate than costs that are scaled around potential production rates.”
Well, to a point he is correct. However, a more useful definition of affordability might be how much an item costs compared to another similar item, or reasonable alternative, and of course whether or not you can afford to pay for it in the first place.
The second item came from Dan Dumbacher, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, who in his prepared statement suggested that the new, scalable SLS could be used for building orbital fuel depots to support deep space exploration. Considering the fact that according to reports in Nasawatch, the agency at one point sought to discourage any discussion of depots in order to build the case for SLS, the about-face (which began some time ago) is surprising to say the least.
Nevertheless, one wonders how it is possible to justify a fuel depot built by 70, 105. or 130 ton SLS launch vehicles with development costs in the tens of billions (almost 40 by some estimates) and Shuttle level operational costs, versus privately funded 53 ton capacity heavy lift vehicles and fly aways costs around $125 million. You can’t.