The New Moon Plan

How much will it cost? A conversation with Jim Bridenstine.

10 thoughts on “The New Moon Plan”

  1. Hrm… It sounds like they’re counting on the lander to work the first time out. Considering how many unmanned flights they required for Dragon before they’d allow a crewed mission, color me highly skeptical that such a simple path will survive the NASA safety requirements. They obviously intend to go with the paper-work certification route, but look how long that’s taken for Starliner and Orion. To me, the plan seems even less sustainable than Apollo, with a much lower flight rate and a more complex architecture (lunar gateway).

    However, he’s also open to reliance on commercial launchers for the gateway and lander components, and that’s where I’d make sure there’s an alternate path to insert a commercial flight vehicle if Orion or SLS become stumbling blocks.

    1. Nothing says they can’t test the lander unmanned first. They don’t need SLS and Orion for that

      1. True. I assume they’ll go with the plan that everyone has suggested forever, which is using the ISS as a base for testing a lunar lander, with multiple crews able to train on it for a few weeks, docking and undocking with both the ISS and a capsule.

        1. The lander is going to the moon commercial anyways. Unmanned test there and use the ISS for Apollo 9 redux.

  2. Everything NASA does is a political requirement. Technical aspects are just symptoms of what needs to be done to meet the political agenda. This is just the nature of the beast and a political agenda that some people like more than the current one wouldn’t make it any less of a political requirement and neither would a different method of realizing the agenda.

    Part of the problem of competing alternatives is that the agenda isn’t very clear and that everyone wants something different. Evaluating costs or risk vs reward isn’t exactly a rational exercise.

    What the government chooses for NASA to do may be less important than how it is done. A path forward that allows participants to retain control of their products and services so that they can market them to other customers will enable agendas other than the political to be realized. There wont ever be a perfect government program and competing alternatives can have equally successful outcomes, even if the outcomes are radically different.

    The trade offs in alternatives aren’t all technical or cost related. There is a compelling opportunity cost case against SLS but cost isn’t the only thing that counts. The interview references three SLS flights. Can we draw any conclusions about proposals for SLS that only mention three launches? Would putting up with SLS for a few more years be worth it if all of the other participants are encouraged and enabled to achieve what they want to in cislunar space?

    I just don’t care about SLS anymore. The costs don’t matter, at least in the way people typically frame them. What matters is everything else that NASA and its partners are doing.

    1. I concur. While all the NASA requests, proposals, designs, and programs are moving forward, Elon Musk is secretly working to make sure than his lunar mansion will be bigger than Jeff Bezos’ lunar mansion.

      If you view new space as a side effect of NASA needing a better way to get to the ISS, then in the long view of history the primary importance of the ISS will have been as an original destination and repeat customer. If NASA’s lunar program serves no other purpose than as an initial excuse to justify private sector supply missions and lunar infrastructure development, spawning countless innovations and new capabilities along the way, it will have been a staggering success.

  3. I recently read about a Chinese 220t second stage LOX/LH2 staged-combustion engine design. Supposedly for their lunar super heavy lift rocket.

    Thrust: 220t
    Isp: 453
    Chamber Pressure: 18.3 MPa
    Nozzle Ratio: 100

    Assuming I got the translation of this right.

      1. That would be the Long March 9, which they intend for Mars sample return and manned lunar missions.

  4. He got almost half a paragraph in before he said they can’t do it. I don’t know who will get back there first, but NASA will not even be second. Maybe not even third.

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