Q&A with John Honeycutt, NASA’s SLS Program Manager

Profile | John Honeycutt Area Launch System Program Supervisor, NASA

Constructing the Large Rocket

John Honeycutt took over as program supervisor for NASA’s Area Launch System in early October, about three years earlier than the rocket is meant to make its maiden flight. The 16-year NASA veteran had been Todd Could’s deputy on this system since 2013 and netted his promotion shortly after Could turned deputy administrator of the Marshall Area Flight Middle in Huntsville, Alabama: NASA’s lead SLS heart.

Strategically talking, SLS is the linchpin for NASA’s much-hyped (and principally unfunded) “Journey to Mars.” Underneath that plan, the rocket would launch astronauts to new crewed habitats in lunar orbit within the 2020s — to check out {hardware} wanted for the lengthy cruise to Mars — and to Mars itself within the 2030s.

SLS is being constructed by NASA and its former area shuttle contractors, together with Boeing Protection, Area & Safety; Aerojet Rocketdyne; and Orbital ATK. These corporations are respectively offering the rocket’s core and higher phases, main-stage engines, and strap-on boosters.

Honeycutt says these main SLS contractors are on monitor to ship their contributions to the Kennedy Area Middle in Florida in time for a late-2018 launch to lunar orbit. That uncrewed mission — through which SLS would launch the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule — is certainly one of simply two on the books at NASA. The second, scheduled for the early 2020s, can be a crewed repeat of the primary, and the primary area launch since 1972 to ship people past low Earth orbit.

In September, 4 years after unveiling its preliminary design for SLS, NASA introduced it was prepared to begin development on flight {hardware} for the rocket. A month later, Honeycutt discovered himself on the helm of a venture that employs some 4,200 folks, and on which NASA spends greater than $1.5 billion yearly.

Honeycutt, who’s now supervising closing repairs to important SLS manufacturing infrastructure in Louisiana, spoke just lately with table4 employees author Dan Leone.

SLS simply handed its important design evaluate, and NASA has given the inexperienced mild to begin development of flight {hardware}. However that can’t occur till Boeing fixes the Vertical Meeting Middle (VAC) on the Michoud Meeting Facility in Louisiana, which was put in incorrectly and consequently couldn’t accommodate items of the SLS phases. The device was speculated to be up and working in March. When will or not it’s prepared?

So the earliest the flight {hardware} would roll out is March 2016. The qualification {hardware} goes to begin rolling out on the finish of January. The 4 giant vertical towers on the device have been misaligned and we needed to provide you with a repair. So we put large, adjustable — for lack of a greater phrase — turnbuckles at places all up and down every tower after which adjusted every tower. We additionally needed to go in and spend time recoding software program as a way to make the device work correctly after the repair. That was one other sudden delay within the restore.

When NASA introduced the completion of the Area Launch System’s important design evaluate Oct. 22, it additionally launched an up to date illustration of the rocket, with the core stage now orange as an alternative of white. Credit score: NASA

ESAB Welding & Reducing, a Boeing subcontractor employed in 2013 to construct the VAC, was accountable for the misalignment. What corrective motion did Boeing take? Is NASA happy with that motion?

Boeing is our prime contractor; they’re accountable for having the VAC constructed and put in and working accurately. NASA doesn’t typically inform our prime contractors how one can handle their subcontractors. I might say that Boeing understands what they’ve executed mistaken, and so they’re within the technique of going off and fixing it.

What’s going to occur with SLS if there may be one other partial authorities shutdown after Dec. 11, when the federal authorities’s present stopgap spending invoice expires?

There’s a possible for work on the Michoud Meeting Facility to proceed, however the remainder of the work on SLS would cease. A lot of the work is at Michoud; it’s the welding, primarily at this early stage of the venture, and meeting of the big buildings. But when a shutdown went on too lengthy, it might additionally have an effect on the combination of the automobile, putting in elements and placing the thermal safety system on the stage.

The 50-meter-tall Vertical Meeting Middle makes use of a method known as friction stir welding to bond items of steel with out melting them or utilizing filler materials to seal joints. Credit score: NASA

Members of Congress, the NASA-chartered Aerospace Security Advisory Panel and former company officers have all questioned the company’s determination to construct — and human certify — two completely different SLS higher phases: the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for the primary two SLS missions, and a extra highly effective Exploration Higher Stage for later missions. Each phases can be constructed round Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10 engines, so why not simply decide one stage and keep it up?

Quick reply is, it was a budget-driven determination that allowed us to satisfy our early exploration objectives. The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage matches the mission to go to the moon and are available again on EM-1 [Exploration Mission 1] in 2018, and it matches the mission to take crew to the moon and again on EM-2. We’re within the technique of doing the planning to determine when the very best time to convey an Exploration Higher Stage onboard is. This summer time, we had a preliminary design evaluate checkpoint for that stage, and at that checkpoint, we ask ourselves two questions. The primary was, “Are we able to proceed to a preliminary design evaluate with an Exploration Higher Stage?” And the reply to that was “sure.” The second query we requested ourselves is, “Ought to we proceed?” And we answered that “no.” The first cause for that’s we’d require fairly a little bit of engineering work, not solely on SLS however on Orion and supporting floor programs on the Kennedy Area Middle as nicely.

With all that stated, how far alongside is United Launch Alliance, Boeing’s subcontractor for that interim higher stage, on the flight {hardware}?

The higher stage is on monitor. We went to United Launch Alliance the week of Oct. 28 and we acquired an ICPS structural check article from them that’s slated to be examined in a structural check stand at Marshall in summer time 2016. I bought to see a few of the upper-stage flight {hardware} after I was at ULA and it’s going to be completed, I imagine, most likely the second quarter of 2016.

What about the remainder of the SLS components? The core stage? The strap-on boosters?

I’m on monitor right now to ship a core stage to the Kennedy Area Middle in January of 2018. And that’s bought loads of time in it in assist of a late-2018 launch date. When the core stage will get shipped, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 engines might be built-in into it. We’re additionally on the point of construct the primary flight set of strap-on boosters. The large items are out with Orbital ATK in Utah.

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