The 2020 Trump Budget Request

NASA starts at page 97.

It’s the beginning of the end for SLS. NASA wants to do Europa on a “commercial vehicle,” plans for Block 1B are “deferred,” and they propose commercial providers for getting to and from the moon itself, which means that SLS has nothing to do except the Gateway, and it can’t do the Gateway without the new upper stage planned for Block 1B.

It will be interesting to see the Congressional response. One thing it does do is continue to flow the wasteful funding for Block 1 to the right zip codes, so Congress may not care. Culberson is gone now, and if this budget passes with that wording, it would end the legislative requirement to use SLS for Europa.

[Update a few minutes later]

This is an OMB proposal. Bridenstine had to provide lip service to SLS to get confirmed. I wonder what he’ll say when he gets called on the carpet by Congress?

[Tuesday noon update]

Yes, Dr. Stofan, NASA could get to Mars sooner, but it doesn’t need more money, it just needs to spend the money it gets more sensibly. They could get to Mars in five years if they could use the SLS/Orion budget for something useful.


[Update a while later]

But other than that, it’s had a great two years.

17 thoughts on “The 2020 Trump Budget Request”

  1. 17% cut to the SLS ledger?

    We’ll see how long that lasts in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    The real question, to me, is what Shelby will make of the shifting of Gateway and Europa Clipper payloads over to commercial launchers. Even if he can keep funding levels up for SLS in FY 2020, he surely has to realize the long-term threat that poses to SLS.

    If all you need SLS for is sending crew to cislunar space…well, I can think of at least three American commercial heavy lift launchers that will exist by 2023 that could get the Orion to low earth orbit – Falcon Heavy, New Glenn, and Vulcan Centaur Heavy. Send up an ACES stage to mate up with it, and you’re off to the Moon. (I am prescinding from the wild card of Starship here).

    As is, SLS Block 1 can’t even get Orion to low lunar orbit – only to this peculiar HALO orbit that the Gateway is supposed to occupy.

    1. No SLS is needed even for the Orion mission to the Gateway orbit.

      The mass of Orion + ICPS = well within the LEO payload limits of the Falcon Heavy.

      If you can get the Orion + ICPS into LEO, the ICPS can get the Orion to Gateway.

  2. There are purposes to a station like Gateway other than providing a reason for SLS to exist. But everything should be rethought with Super Heavy and Spaceship in mind. They are such a near term giant leap forward in capability that a typical development program for something that could use them should be started right now.

    1. I can at least see the argument that Starship/SuperHeavy are wild cards we can’t quite bank on yet: It’s in an early stage of development, and entails a number of major tech breakthroughs; it is entirely privately financed, and there is just no way of knowing when it will reach operational status.

      (I think it *will* succeed, BTW. But I am open to these concerns.)

      But the thing is, we don’t need Starship to demolish the need for SLS or LOP-G. We already have one American heavy lifter, Falcon Heavy, which will have flown three times by this summer; and we have two other American (New Glenn, Vulcan Centaur Heavy) and one European (Ariane 64) heavy lift launchers in advanced stages of development, which will be flying by 2021.

      In any event, however you send stuff to the Moon, there’s still no need for Gateway, and as Bob Zubrin says, it’s actually an obstacle to getting to the surface. Far better to spend the billions it will cost to develop and operate this Rube Goldberg station and spend them on lunar landers and surface hardware.

      1. Whether or not the initial potshots being taken at the heretofore sacrosanct SLS budget actually hit and do damage, or just bounce off, the fact that they are being essayed at all suggests someone – or even multiple someones – in the Trump administration has figured out that we have reached “Peak SLS” and that the thing is now – Gasp! – vulnerable.

        That new vulnerability is due almost entirely to SpaceX. The credible alternative represented by Falcon Heavy for many putative SLS missions – especially given that Block 1 is going to be as good as SLS gets for a steadily lengthening period – will likely be joined by Blue Origin’s New Glenn before Block 1 flies even once.

        Then there is SpaceX’s SH-Starship, development of which is accelerating even as that of SLS slows down.

        I think we’ll have a much better read on SH-Starship progress very soon. There is at least one Raptor now physically present at Boca Chica and Elon has said it is to be installed on StarHopper this week. One engine in place is enough to start static fire tests – perhaps in the next few days.

        Given the dispatch with which this second Raptor was turned out, its two identical siblings can’t be far behind. That could well allow initial actual hop tests to start in April.

        The Teslarati website has posted pictures of additional 9-meter barrel section construction at Boca Chica that doesn’t seem to be required for StarHopper. Perhaps these are the initial bits of the full-up Starship prototype test article.

        Should this be true, it seems, then, that we are seeing something nearly unprecedented – Elon Musk actually making good on initial “wild” schedule estimates for a project. If this keeps up, we should expect to see that first actual Starship completed by summer and the first SH booster completed by year’s end. With a series of Starhopper jaunts punctuating the other work, we could then be looking at an initial orbit-and-return test flight of the SH-Starship stack by early next year.

        Given how quickly SpaceX used extant equipment, modestly modified, to put together the transporter configuration used to move the incomplete Starhopper from its initial construction area to its launch pad, there is plenty of time in the outlined schedule for SpaceX to also, say, acquire and refit one or more currently idle jack-up rigs to act as an off-shore launch and booster recovery site.

        This is going to be an extraordinarily interesting year.

      2. Zubrin is very enthusiastic and is very smart but a case can be made for any path as they all have trade offs and inefficiencies. Is getting to the lunar surface the only thing that counts? Is there any expendable infrastructure being used?

        Whether or not something like Gateway is the best path, it is hardly a Rube Goldberg. It is essentially a reusable transfer stage that provides frequent access to a lot of different places on the Moon and can do a bunch of other things. It certainly isn’t the only way things can be done. There are a lot of different possibilities.

        Also, while Gateway is more of a government controlled vehicle, the landers and surface hardware is supposed to follow the COTS style of doing business and not necessarily rely on Gateway to get to the lunar surface. This distinction is important because prospecting missions are supposed to take place before Gateway is operational.

        Personally, I think we should be using all of cislunar space and not just focusing on one part of it. We should be base walking to expand capabilities, influence, and commerce. We are totally able to do more than one thing at a time, especially if we leverage and enable private companies to peruse their desires while servicing a larger agenda.

    2. There certainly are useful things that could be done with lunar gateway, but in the foreseeable future they fail to come close to justifying the cost. Recall that *nobody* was promoting a gateway until just a few years ago, when SLS urgently needed a (marginally) affordable place to go.

      1. How do you justify a cost? Isn’t that rather subjective? The competition over government funds is an ideological one.

        1. Very true Wodun. If left to the market,t he market would decide where to put the resources and the eventual decision would be very good.

  3. At the last Moon Village Association I was able to get 20 minutes, 1-on-1 with Scott Pace in which I made the case for how we could and should have a purely commercial transportation system between LEO and the lunar surface not requiring the stopping off at the Gateway. The idea is to use one of the Falcon Heavy class of launchers (including Vulcan & New Glenn) to launch a human-scale lunar lander to LEO or higher and then the lander with an external drop tank would proceed directly to the lunar surface. The nearest example of this would be the Falcon Heavy – XEUS configuration as seen here:

    Scott listened intently, asked good questions, and generally seemed agreeable without making any commitments. When asked the big question, “Where would the $1 B/yr come from for Lunar COTS” I answered that, if sending crew to the surface of the Moon is a priority then either the budget would be prioritized towards that and/or NASA’s budget would be increased to fit that priority. He reframed my response to include “compelling case”. He then asked me for additional copies of a little brochure that I had and said that he wanted to give them to the OMB.

    I also made the case that the SLS & Gateway are technically not necessary for the Moon but an SHLV is necessary for Mars. Until Super Heavy Starship (SHS) achieves a level of reality, I can’t blame Congress for wanting to hold on to their one bird in the bush. But I believe that there should be a tipping point criteria set for the transition from SLS to SHS which I would set as Starship making it to orbit with at least 90 tonnes of payload.

    I don’t know how much if any influence I had but the direction of the changes reported seem to be a step in the right direction.

    1. Good work Doug. I hope what you had to say to Pace did have something to do with the new budget proposal.

      By this time next year I expect SH-Starship to be very much more real even to the DC crowd than it is currently. Even if it hasn’t yet flown an orbit-and-return test, it will be plenty real enough to significantly influence policy and plans.

  4. I can see a future for LOP-G if it actually gets built before Starship is flying: as a dirigible space station. Give it a better solar electric propulsion module (upgrade the one scheduled) so it can travel about cislunar space as needed (a mobile repair shop for large, expensive satellites, frex) and forays to NEOs. Use it until it wears out. It can be refueled, resupplied, and recrewed by whatever’s available.

  5. Want an LOPG gateway?

    1) Park a Starship there.
    2) Leave Starship there.
    3) Instant Gateway.
    4) Profit!

    1. They will continue chugging along with their planned development of capabilities that in turn allow them to expand their activities in space and on the lunar surface. They will be denigrated by people how are also constantly surprised that China did something that was claimed impossible for them to do just a few months earlier.

      It will be weird because the many of the people denigrating China’s capabilities will also be denigrating anyone who rationally looks at what China is doing in the context of their other activities as being irrationally fearful of China or being bigoted toward them.

      It is a bit like people who are against voter ID laws thinking that minorities are too incapable to know how to get an ID while claiming the other people are the racists.

  6. I’m not as confident as Rand that this is the beginning of the end for SLS, but it at least gives me hope. As others have pointed out, a lot depends on what gets through congress.

    As for SLS itself, does anyone still think the 2021 first launch date is even possible at this point?

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