Category Archives: Space

The Space-Pork Empire

Strikes back:

SLS is still running behind schedule. It is very likely it will not be ready for that June 2020 launch. In a few weeks Bridenstine’s review will come out, and it is likely going to show that a combination of private rockets can do the job, on time and for less money. Faced with further SLS delays, Bridenstine will likely have the political clout to enable him to make the switch, especially because he clearly intends to also continue his public and strong support for SLS for later launches. Such statements will act to placate these naysayers

Get that first Orion launch up using private rockets however and game will shift. It will then become very obvious that SLS is unneeded, and too expensive. While the corrupt political class in Washington will likely continue pouring taxpayer money into this black hole for years to come, the political winds will steadily begin shifting against it. And this shift will become even more evident should SpaceX succeed in getting its Starship/Super Heavy rocket operational in the next few years. At that point even Washington lawmakers will have to bow to reality and shut SLS down.

What will they then do? Don’t fool yourself. The pork and corruption will not cease, as long as these people remain in power. They will find a new boondoggle they can fund that will use these cheaper private rockets. Gateway immediately comes to mind. It won’t get us back to the Moon, but it will give lawmakers a big space project which will allow them to funnel money to their big old space contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

I wonder if part of this is Bridenstine trying to light a fire under Boeing and Marshall to get SLS flying sooner?

A Shocking Space Announcement

Bridenstine announced today that he wants to send Orion on EM-1 in 2020, on a commercial rocket, including orbital fueling. I haven’t read Eric’s take yet, but I’m sure I’ll have my own.

[Update a while later]

[Update a few minutes later]

Thoughts from Anthony Colangelo:

On-orbit assembly was always said to be too complicated and risky to consider, and that is why SLS reigned supreme—because it has the ability to launch missions alone. But if EM-1 is flown on commercial vehicles, and the capability to assemble this type of mission on-orbit is proven, that’s as dead as SLS could ever be.

Almost 10 years ago, SLS was born out of the ashes of a program that would fly this type of mission in the same way—crew flown on Ares I, an upper stage flown on Ares V.

It’s ironic—and fitting—that it might die in the same way it was born.

It will have taken far too long.

[Late-morning update]

[Update a few minutes later]

Per some comments:

[Thursday-morning update]

Another shocking development! OK, not really. SLS defenders defend SLS.

[Update mid-morning]

Eric Berger has more details. Yes, it’s possible that having to use two Delta IVs will be the price that NASA has to pay to get Shelby’s blessing for this, though that would make it a lot tougher to pull off. They’ve never launched two of those in such a small timeframe. Maybe Delta IV plus Atlas V.

[Update late morning]

Here‘s Marina Koren’s current take.

[Noon update]

A message from Bridenstine to the NASA workforce:

Yesterday, I was asked by Congress about the schedule slip of the Space Launch System and plans to get NASA back on track. I mentioned that we are exploring the possibility of launching Orion and the European Service Module to low-Earth orbit on an existing heavy-lift rocket, then using a boost from another existing vehicle for Trans Lunar Injection. Our goal would be to test Orion in lunar orbit in 2020 and free up the first SLS for the launch of habitation or other hardware in 2021. This would get us back on schedule for a crewed lunar orbital mission in 2022 with the added bonus of a lunar destination for our astronauts.

We are studying this approach to accelerate our lunar efforts. The review will take no longer than two weeks and the results will be made available. Please know that NASA is committed to building and flying the SLS for the following reasons:

  1. Launching two heavy-lift rockets to get Orion to the Moon is not optimum or sustainable.
  2. Docking crewed vehicles in Earth orbit to get to the Moon adds complexity and risk that is undesirable.
    SLS mitigates these challenges and allows crew and payloads to get to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, safer and more efficiently than any temporary solution used to get back on track.

  3. I believe in the strength of our workforce and our ability to utilize every tool available to achieve our objectives. Our goal is to get to the Moon sustainably and on to Mars. With your focused efforts, and unmatched talent, the possibility of achieving this objective is real.

Ad astra,

Jim Bridenstine

This is really a message to Dick Shelby. He has to continue to pay lip service, even though he knows it’s nonsense.