NASA recently revealed long-term plans for the Space Launch System (SLS), the monster rocket he’s been working on since about 2010. The SLS has cost many billions of dollars, and NASA proposes to launch it for the first time in February 2022. NASA would like to commercialize the SLS, fly it once a day year for the Artemis Schedule and pay half price for the privilege. The space agency wants to do this for at least the next 30 years.
Meanwhile, a federal court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Blue Origin against NASA and SpaceX over the award to Elon muskElon Reeve Musk On The Money – IRS Chief Calls For Boosters Balance / Sustainability – Presented By Altria – River Thames Comes To Life Elon Musk Sells Over 930,000 Tesla Shares Worth .1B PLUSHuman Landing System Company. Work on the SpaceX HLS, based on the Starship rocket that is now being developed in Boca Chica, can now continue.
Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos was courteous in defeat on Twitter, noting that “it was not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s ruling and wish NASA and SpaceX every success in the contract.”
Blue Origin will have another chance when the second round competition for the HLS happens. Congress will have to fund that round. With the demand for Blue Origin out of the way, NASA and SpaceX can now continue Artemis’s return to the moon program.
Ars Technica reported on how that effort is going: The plan is currently to launch the unmanned Artemis I mission in February around the moon to test the Space Launch System and Orion. Then, in May 2024, Artemis II will take a crew of three Americans and a Canadian on an epic journey around the moon, the first since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Artemis III, the next moon landing, was delayed until at least 2025. NASA cited demand, funding shortfalls and technical problems as reasons for abandoning the 2024 deadline.
Meanwhile, SpaceX will send the spacecraft into orbit as soon as the FAA solves the environmental issues, likely early next year. Finally, a lunar spacecraft will be sent on an unmanned mission to the lunar surface. The mission will pave the way for SpaceX’s Human Landing System to take Americans back to the moon as early as 2025.
The lunar ship, according to the plan, will be launched into low Earth orbit. Then it will spend about a month filling its fuel tanks before being sent into lunar orbit. At that point, the Space Launch System will launch an Orion spacecraft into space. The Orion will dock with the lunar craft and at least two astronauts will transfer to the SpaceX HLS. They will travel in the rocket to the lunar surface. For the first time in more than 50 years, Americans will walk on the moon in view of billions of video screens.
The problem is that each mission to the moon using the Orion / SLS system can only happen once a year. Additionally, NASA expects to reduce the cost of an Artemis mission by between $ 1 billion and $ 1.5 billion per flight, an immense sum.
Ars Technica suggested an intriguing alternative: SpaceX spacecraft launches into low Earth orbit and fuels as before. However, in the alternate scenario, the spacecraft takes a crew of astronauts from LEO to the moon directly, without the need for the Orion / SLS system. The cost would be orders of magnitude less than NASA’s current plan and could happen multiple times a year.
So why is NASA contemplating using Orion / SLS for the next 30 years? The main reason is that NASA has built an outdated and monstrously expensive rocket at the behest of Congress, ostensibly to appease the people who decide to fund the space agency. The Orion / SLS represents jobs for voters and big contracts for campaign contributors. For far too many people in public office, all that science, wealth creation, and soft political power are just the happy side effects of having a space program.
Eventually, comparing the old-fashioned, expensive disposable rocket and the cheap, nimble, reusable rocket that can carry 100 tons of payload to the Moon and Mars, created by a commercial company, will be too much to tolerate. The Space Launch System probably won’t fly for the next 30 years. Instead, it will serve as a monument to how not to return to the moon or anywhere else.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Space Exploration Studies “Why is it so difficult to return to the Moon?” like “The Moon, Mars and beyond,” and “Why is the United States returning to the Moon?“Write on the blog Curmudgeon corner.