Trump’s New Space Plan

Bob Zimmerman writes that it won’t happen without cutting the pork.

In other words, it won’t happen.

(Friday-afternoon update)

Tweet from @realDonaldTrump: “For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”

No comment, but there’s a lot of response on Twitter.

38 thoughts on “Trump’s New Space Plan”

  1. I agree with the premise.

    To me, the mentioned lack of an actual goal is a fatal flaw. Until that is fixed, all else is moot.

    Without a reason, a plan, and what will result from this, it’s hard to see it getting any public support. I remember the “Apollo on Steroids” Constellation issue; NASA was asked what the astronauts would do on the moon (why the were going) and could not answer.

    If Artemis gets much further along without being able to answer that same question, it is doomed – and rightfully so.

    It is also absolutely critical to know what the plan is before designing the hardware for it. For example, if a lunar base is the goal, it is essential to have an unmanned cargo lander. If it is brief prospecting visits, maybe not.

    As for Gateway, it looks more and more like a boondoggle. The orbit they plan for it simply (distant elliptical retrograde, last I heard) isn’t that useful for lunar surface missions. Or, for that matter, much of anything else.

    1. I said this over on his site,

      Adding to the vagueness is what will happen in congress and with SLS/Orion/Gateway. So, vagueness is baked in for a variety of reasons. There is an intellectual and persuasion challenge here. It is just like getting people to understand how free commerce works over time as people pursue what they think is important. The future is always uncertain and humans have an evolutionary compulsion to manage this unknown but it manifests in different ways, for example capitalism vs marxism.

      The vagueness, uncertainty, and open ended aims go against what many people, especially the space nerd type of people, look for in a program. But isn’t that life? Can you predict the next big product or killer app? Can the next failure be predicted? There is a conflict between how humans are wired to manage risk and plan for the future with how human development plays out from a group perspective.

      The challenge here is in having an over arching strategy that embraces the unknown and the human spirit and being able to articulate that while also having very specific short term (a couple years) activities that take place that can produce measurable success/failure, provide accountability, while also enabling our people who choose to engage in space to thrive.

      The drawback to this is that there are many people who do not want our people to thrive and who can’t disassociate from themselves enough to see a more objective reality.

      And I’ll just toss in that the Trump administration has been very slow rolling this out, there have been frequent changes, and there are a lot of people who have an interest in distorting anything that takes place.

      1. I see your point, Wodun, and further I think that at this stage, there’s room for ambiguity. I also know all too well that Trump could personally cure cancer and there would be plenty who suddenly say what a good and wonderful thing cancer is, because orange man bad.

        However, at some point soon, there has to be at least a reason given – a reason to go (otherwise, why spend the $$$). A base? prospecting? Something. Otherwise, many will see it as just another flags and footprints mission, redoing something done long ago, to no purpose. This will be especially true if the lander has no real downmass capability; if the architecture precludes doing useful things in future, it serves no purpose.

        1. BTW, in addendum to the above, I would consider a territorial claim a useful purpose, such as securing a water-ice resource for US use.

        2. I agree. There has to be a way to articulate the abstract and tie it in with very specific actions. But there really isn’t any single reason, there are lots of them and while that should make a rational case for something stronger, as humans we want that one single reason.

          I think once the industry has escaped the funding trap of competing for government funds, then things have a good chance to largely take care of themselves.

  2. If NASA explores the Moon and other countries use such exploration to build bases in best locations. That seems like win to me.
    If they could somehow use up all the good spots, that also sounds promising. But how would they do this exactly?
    First, are all countries going build in south polar region?
    Have we already decided the south is the one and only pole to go to?
    Or is there some doubt about this.
    Assuming only the south pole is good enough, how much area has to be used up to get all best places in the south polar region?
    I guess best places are places where you get 80% sunlight [or more].
    Or are best places going to mostly near somewhere get high percentage of sunlight, and direct comm to Earth, and where there is highest concentration of water or highest concentration of water which is at to top part of surface.
    I think lunar real estate for a hotel will include a nice view of Earth.
    For research base, good to near a hotel, a launch site, a direct comm link to Earth, and perhaps other stuff. If has something to with telescopes [optical and/or radio] a more isolated spot and lots of sky.
    But still want to be somewhat close to launch site, hotel, and etc.
    Now is some non hotel going to put in a perfect place for a hotel.
    Or I don’t governments are going to make a hotel. I think hotel has to have swimming pool and restaurant. Though maybe it’s more sports and exercise- trampline/flying area.
    Anyhow what the guess in terms of number of square km of best locations.

    As to other things, I wish I see some designs of craft and etc. But maybe it’s good news they are not available. One aspect is Blue Origin is involved and Bezos is rather secretive.
    Maybe there more hope of seeing what other countries are planning- maybe they show lots of designs that never fly.

    1. I was just listening to Scott Adams podcast on twitter, talking about nuclear energy. I think lunar polar region are good in terms of solar energy, but also the Moon is good place for nuclear energy.
      So lunar polar regions are good for solar energy and also possibly good in order to mine lunar water. And it’s good because we can do it, immediately- assuming lunar polar region was explored [which is yet to happen].
      But in terms of the future, decades, and in terms of limited “best estate” we could get a vast improvement in nuclear energy.
      Nuclear energy doesn’t need a constant source of sunlight, which huge advantage of polar region and harvesting solar energy. But the polar region have more advantages than sunlight and water.
      Another advantage is the benign thermal environment and a means of controlling temperature. So maintaining the same temperature and being able of getting any temperature you want.
      This also applies to polar regions of Mercury. Or idea that Mercury is some harsh environment is not accounting for polar regions of Mercury.
      In terms of benign environment the polar region of both the Moon and Mercury is quite a large region. Or in that sense there is not shortage of real estate on the Moon.
      Of course with nuclear energy and/or cheaper energy on the Moon, this also opens up the entire area of the Moon.

  3. Well this part is interesting:

    The Trump administration has also shifted the focus of Artemis from a project built entirely by NASA, with minimal help from private companies, to one that includes a significant component of privately built rockets and spacecraft. Rather than depend almost entirely on SLS, the Trump administration will use both SLS and private rockets—dubbed by NASA as “Commercial Launch Vehicles” or CLVs.from a project built entirely by NASA, with minimal help from private companies, to one that includes a significant component of privately built rockets and spacecraft. Rather than depend almost entirely on SLS, the Trump administration will use both SLS and private rockets—dubbed by NASA as “Commercial Launch Vehicles” or CLVs.”

    “The administration has made it clear that if SLS cannot meet its scheduled launch dates they will consider shifting to private companies entirely.” Competition is built into the program’s fundamental structure.”

    Sounds like a shout out to Bezos (and especially) Musk’s SpaceX. That is decidedly not business as usual NASA wise. Of course it remains to be seen how the Congress critters will react to this.

    1. It is but launch isn’t the only aspect of the proposal that relies on non-traditional contractors. Pretty much all of it, other than SLS/Orion/Gateway, follows something closer to a COTS like approach.

  4. “In other words, it won’t happen.”

    I agree — just consider the data points we have so far:

    1. Pence and Bridenstine surprised everybody, most notably Congress, with this whole thing. The people whose rice bowls it threatens immediately dug in against it (witness the meeting Bridenstine had early on with Alabama Congress people: they kept talking about jobs, never once mentioning the 5-year time frame that so excited him). With a bit of advance preparation, the people who would benefit from the initiative could have been organized to support it. In other words, Pence and Bridenstine have made the same rookie mistake that the Obama administration made when it tried to re-vector NASA in 2010. How two ex-Congressmen could have blundered so is beyond me.

    2. Pence’s speach at MSFC sounded tough, but he was careful to praise MSFC. So, how much room, really, was there for avoiding business as usual?

    3. The House has rejected Bridenstine’s proposal to create a Moon Mars Mission Directorate, and Mark Sirangelo has decided to leave NASA forthwith.

    4. Bridenstine has already been forced to eat his words about funding for Artemis ot come from other NASA programs — a key requirement, in his own telling, to make it politically viable.

    5. Bill “SLS” Nelson is now on the NASA Advisory Council. I’ll bet that was forced on Bridenstine by Shelby for the impudent act of proposing (in the administration’s budget proposal released in mid-March) that Europa Clipper fly on a commercial launch vehicle, among other crimes against SLS.

    Much as I like Bridenstine, I think he’s failed. It really is Lucy and the football all over again. The major result of this initiative may be that corporate welfare queens Boeing and Lockheed Martin will make even more money. Drain the swamp my asteroid.

    It was all rather predictable that nobody would be willing to stand up up to Shelby, especially not a Republican running for president in 2020 and another planning to run in 2024.

    By the way, Rand, are you still expecting Ted Cruz to come out against SLS “when the time is right”?

    1. I don’t think Bridenstein has failed, so much as nobody could succeed when they’ve been handed the wrong organization with the wrong goal executing the wrong program with the wrong vehicle. If he radically changed course he’d fail miserably on one set of metrics, and if he doesn’t change course, he fails miserably on a different set of metrics.

      He was appointed chief pyramid builder just when everyone was realizing that the innovative Hebrews have come up with a vastly cheaper and better way to get to the afterlife. So does he tell the Pharaoh and all the laborers that the work on the new pyramid is pointless? What are they going to do if they’re not building pyramids? Who will hire all the overseers? Is he supposed to leave it half built, maybe scavenging the stones as commercial building supplies? What if he gets lynched by the priests of Osiris?

      Maybe he should maintain the massive building program and hope the Pharaoh doesn’t have a come to Jesus moment. So he keeps telling the Royal Pyramid Committee how great the current job is going, while dazzling them with presentation models of the next one, because nobody involved in the construction can imagine an Egypt that isn’t building a pyramid.

      Regarding the SLS, I don’t think it can be turned into a competitive launch vehicle. The obvious path is to make it re-usable, using some of SpaceX’s landing innovations, in which case the inordinately long build times wouldn’t really matter. They could even replace the two solids with two or four re-usable fly-back liquid boosters.

      But that won’t work because the SLS’s core stage goes nearly to orbit, so the foam-covered aluminum structure can’t survive re-entry. They can’t put more payload on it so the staging happens early because four RS-25’s don’t have the thrust to lift a huge stack, the structure probably couldn’t take the extra loading, and in physical terms, a much taller vehicle wouldn’t fit through the VAB doors. It is what it is, and what it is is a dead end.

      1. “It is what it is, and what it is is a dead end.”

        Totally 110% agreed!

        A further issue; NASA looked into making the RS-25 air startable, and it proved so hard that they went with a different engine, J2X, an “updated” version of the J2 from Apollo.

        One thing that IMHO *might* be worth saving from SLS/Orion is the Orion abort system, assuming it could be scaled down. The life support system for Orion might be another. And other than those, I can think of only one other use for SLS/Orion; place all the hardware for it on the Washington D.C. mall as a permanent reminder to never do something so stupid ever again.

    2. –In other words, Pence and Bridenstine have made the same rookie mistake that the Obama administration made when it tried to re-vector NASA in 2010. How two ex-Congressmen could have blundered so is beyond me.–

      It seems to me that gateway is a “response” to Obama efforts and seems it’s going forward in a limited fashion. And I think it could be useful in terms of Mars exploration.
      And Trump is not re-vectoring, the administration is doing what Congress has passed laws to do: explore Moon and then explore Mars. Or seems in accordance with both Obama and Bush direction.

      1. “… the administration is doing what Congress has passed laws to do: explore Moon and then explore Mars.”

        Congress passed a law to build Orion and SLS. It’s pretty vague about what to do with them.

        1. “WASHINGTON — U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063), a policy bill that endorses U.S. plans to return to the Moon, sets budget targets for NASA programs, and requires the agency to conduct an additional space shuttle flight to deliver a multi-billion dollar science payload to the international space station.

          “The major provisions of this authorization bill affirm Congress’ support for the broad goals of the president’s space exploration policy, including return of American astronauts to the Moon, exploration of Mars and other destinations.”

          And Trump signs another one:
          Trump signs NASA bill aimed at sending people to Mars
          “The authorization bill directs NASA to keep its sights on a human mission to Mars in 2033 (though it doesn’t specify whether that would be a landing or just a visit to Mars orbit). But Congress wants the space agency to come up with an alternative to the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which was supposed to send humans to lunar orbit as a steppingstone toward the Red Planet. NASA doesn’t need to be told twice — after the blueprint budget included no funding for ARM, acting administrator Robert Lightfoot announced that NASA will no longer pursue that mission.

          But that means NASA is looking for other “intermediate” stops on the path from Earth to Mars. Will the moon be one of them? At the president’s request, NASA is currently studying the feasibility of adding astronauts to the first test flight of the SLS rocket, which is slated to fly around the moon next year.”

          As I said, I think NASA “Gateway” was related or outgrowth to Obama’s re-direct from the Moon to a space rock

          1. To be more clear:

            New Space Policy Directive Calls for Human Expansion Across Solar System
            Dec. 11, 2017
            President Donald Trump is sending astronauts back to the Moon.

            Work toward the new directive will be reflected in NASA’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request next year.

            February 15, 2019

            NASA just got its best budget in a decade

            “The President’s lunar initiative was widely supported by the Congress, with nearly all of its funding requests approved, though with a caveat that only 50% could be obligated before NASA provided a milestone-based schedule for a comprehensive lunar exploration program. The Gateway project received $450 million, slightly less than requested. Commercial payload services and the science-focused lunar discovery program both received full approval.”

          2. I’ll grant that during the Bush Jr. years, there was a law directing NASA to the moon. But the Altair lunar lander never received any significant funding, so it was a moon program in name only. The 2010 NASA authorization act specifically directed NASA to build SLS and Orion but was far less specific about what to do with them and, continuing the Bush Jr. tradition, did not fund any other flight hardware such as a lander. During the Obama years, there was talk about asteroids in various ways but, again, no significant funding for the additional hardware needed.

    3. Artemis is going to be a long fight. All we’ve seen so far are the opening skirmishes. The good guys have taken some casualties, but that is often unavoidable. I would argue that the bad guys have taken worse. Before Pence’s speech, SLS was assumed to be unassailable. Now it isn’t. By extension, neither is MSFC. Five years is a long time in every arena except NASA business as usual. This fight isn’t lost, it’s barely gotten started.

    4. Much as I like Bridenstine, I think he’s failed.

      It is interesting that a lot of people who were not in favor of the man like what he has been trying to do. I don’t know if he will be successful or not but I feel the current situation is more about laying the groundwork for what comes next.

  5. Lucy and the football yes. Constellation and the unfunded VSE all over again. Since its seems primarily an issue of control over prime real estate on the moon, rather than any other long term purpose or reason to be there why not just send robotic landers that are all decked out in painted on USA flags with flashing blue and red lights with remotely operated machine guns and that stream out audio warnings not to approach a restricted area claimed for the United States in all the competitive languages (Chinese, Russian and English) interspersed with out national anthem and sent out over radio wifi using solar arrays with batteries to power it? The radius of the claim is the range of the machine guns.

    Would eliminate a lot of unnecessary hardware and cost us only a fraction of what an otherwise ill defined manned program would cost to achieve the only identifiable goal.

  6. …why not just send robotic landers that are all decked out in painted on USA flags with flashing blue and red lights with remotely operated machine guns…

    And people wonder why space advocates aren’t taken more seriously.

          1. Yes, I think it was proposed in all seriousness. I do not think it will come to pass, however.

          2. Of course it’s serious. Even its opponents know that; it’s why they’re fighting back.

            Will Artemis’s aims be accomplished according to anything substantially resembling the notional schedule and architecture recently released. I doubt it. But trying to advance that plan against the opposition of all the business as usual constituencies in NASA and Congress will be worth the effort if substantial reform of NASA is the ultimate outcome.

            As for getting Americans to the Moon by 2024, that is going to be accomplished by Messrs. Musk and Bezos on tracks separate from Artemis.

      1. Perhaps a more modest proposal is called for…

        An M1 Arbrams should handle lunar gravity and moon dust well.

        1. You’re going the rover route just as I suspect my late great USENET friend Patrick Flannery would have suggested.

          The (up to) 72 short tons of launch mass aside, (not counting the needed O2) a remote operated M1 would be loads of fun. But I suspect there are far cheaper ways to get remote operated rovers on the moon…. 🙂

    1. Yeah, the lubricating oil for machine guns isn’t rated for lunar temperatures. Better to use solid state lasers powered by solar panels. It’s all about sustainability.

  7. It is not inconceivable that Bezos and Musk will just build the lunar colony on their on at the lunar South Pole. Taking advantage of whatever government contracts/monies they obtain along the way from NASA (and especially DOD, i.e. Space-force). Just like Musk might use his satellite service revenues:
    “SpaceX world-wide internet plan could launch private vs public space race”

    That is the game changer; we never had billionaires trying to develop space before. One billionaire (Musk) in a contest with an even richer (Bezos) just as determined competitor.

  8. Wiki:
    “The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is planning a robotic mission that would return samples from 2016 HO3”
    “Photometric observations in April 2017 revealed that Kamo‘oalewa is a fast rotator. Lightcurve analysis gave a rotation period of 0.467 ± 0.008 hours (28.02 ± 0.48 minutes) and a brightness variation of 0.80±0.05 magnitude ”

    Will it’s rotational period make difficult to land on?

  9. Artemis was dead the instant Congress killed Sirangelo’s proposed new Moon to Mars Mission Directorate and mandated doing it via the existing bureaucracy.

    The last couple years have made it clear that some at NASA do understand that the existing agency human spaceflight organizations and development processes are terminally dysfunctional, and the only way to do useful human exploration is to bypass them. Bringing the commercial outfits into lander development was the first big sign, and proposing MtMMD confirmed it: Bridenstine & Co understand the nature of the problem, and were trying a partial-bypass solution.

    Now that Congress has made clear that bypassing existing roadblocks isn’t allowed, Artemis is effectively dead. The usual multi-billion one-year-per-year delays will now happen, and Artemis won’t ever usefully fly. My guess as to what the President is talking about today would be that he has been briefed on this, and he is sending a message.

    1. His twitter?

      “For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”

      1. Some or most people, don’t seems to get what Trump is saying.
        One thing about it, is that it’s not so much what he says, but what he is doing by saying something.

        What I get from it, is that Trump understand that going to the Moon, is much more than about going to the Moon.
        Exploring the Moon is *how* you can explore Mars.
        I think it’s the only way to explore Mars. But when read what Trump says, it at least gives me hope that Trump gets it.

        The other thing is Trump is almost entirely talking about an issue of PR. He is telling the NASA PR guys what they should do.
        He is instructing them or ordering them to do something, which they should talking about the big picture AND what we currently doing in space which is getting good results. And/or NASA not spending much money on going to the Moon, NASA is doing a lot more, and in terms of PR, one focus on what is being done, and what could be done in the future.
        Or 50 years ago NASA was largely doing one thing, going to the Moon. At present NASA doing ISS, it’s got probe orbit the sun, etc, etc. And most of money/effort of NASA is not being directed at lunar program.
        Now, I think more money should provided for lunar program and I think NASA needs to actually make lunar program, but such program is NOT going to be a large part of NASA budget- or NASA will still doing a lot of other things [unlike 50 years ago].

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