Man, in the last hour from when I read this story over at Nasawatch.com, Clark Lindsey and Rand Simberg have already commented. So, it looks like the modifications to the SRB are going to take $3B instead of the $1B ATK originally quoted…I’m with Rand on this one–I too am shocked. Shocked, and disturbed. Among my many reactions to this news, I have been shocked, disturbed, and deeply surprised…
As Rand points out, the potential for this blowing up into a scandal seems readily apparent. Here Griffin and some other guys from NSS do a study claiming that a SRB-based vehicle will be cheaper to develop, safer, and better for launching people than an EELV based system. Then Griffin gets into office and pretty much ignores all the CE&R work done by Boeing, Lockheed, and all the other groups. Then he hires Horowitz over from ATK to manage the exact same program on the NASA side that he had been pitching from the ATK side. Now it turns out that they were off by 200% on their initial cost estimate….Oops.
Now, this could be a legitimate error. ATK and a lot of the big boys regularly low-ball stuff like this and screw up on the price, especially once the detailed work comes out and the supposed simplicity of a politically convenient design decision evaporates. Everyone involved may be completely innocent of wrongdoing in this case, and until we have evidence to conclude otherwise, we should probably give them the benefit of the doubt (at least regarding their integrity).
That said, while in all fairness it is too early to cast doubts on their integrity, it’s way past time to start doubting the intelligence of trying to shoehorn the SRB into being a first stage. It was a bad idea to start with, and we now have an additional two billion (and counting) reasons to think that it was silly.
I’m still in favor of having NASA force ATK (if they really want to develop the Stick) to do what the EELV guys did, and raise most of the money themselves. If their costs just went up by 200% after the deal, they should be eating the cost increase, not the American taxpayer. Especially if ATK wants to market this vehicle commercially in competition with other commercially derived vehicles like some ATK employees have suggested in the past.