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Surprise by the announcement of NASA puts the future of the new mega-rocket in doubt




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The Impression of an Artist by the Space Launch System (SLS) Getty

Last week, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made an announcement outlining the space world He said the first mission of the new NASA flagship mega-rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), could instead be outsourced to private companies, and if that is the case, this could mean a big turnaround from NASA's enormous Implications for the Future of Spaceflight.

This mission is called Exploration Mission 1

(EM-1) and should start in June 2020. An Orion spacecraft, NASA's new four-passenger vehicle, would be built here Moon and beyond, launching an unmanned mission around the moon, a service module built in Europe will provide the propulsion and life support for the mission and future Orion missions.

Orion was already flown once before and continued to launch a Delta IV Heavy of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in December 2014. Since NASA made steady progress – albeit somewhat slowly – the launch of the first astronaut on board, scheduled for 2022, is on , Delays in the SLS, however, have made the flight of the EM-1 in June 2020 seem unlikely.

NASA has consistently insisted that the huge SLS rocket – the largest ever fired since Saturn V – is the only one Orion can launch into space. The rocket, however, was heavily criticized. About $ 14 billion has been spent over a decade building the building without a first start in sight. This is at a time when companies like SpaceX have built and fired other big missiles like the Falcon Heavy at a significantly lower cost.

Bridenstine's Commentary on Wednesday by the Senate Commerce Committee in Washington, DC The 13th of March was extremely surprising. "SLS has difficulty keeping to the schedule," he said. "NASA has not had any start dates for a long time. And I try to change that. "

Bridenstine said Orion was not brought to the SLS as planned in June 2020, but other options for the mission were considered. "Some of these options include launching the Orion Crew Capsule and the European Service Module on a commercial rocket," he said. "We could use two heavy rockets to bring the Orion Crew Capsule and the European Service Module into orbit around the Earth."

Orion would take man over Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo missions NASA

In other words, Bridenstine suggested that Orion's flight around the Moon, one of the few reasons for building the SLS could be started in any other way. "We have amazing capabilities that exist now to achieve this goal," he said.

This has understandably sent shockwaves through the space community. Many have long called for the scrapping of the SLS, and the billions of dollars spent on the company's development are better spent elsewhere by NASA. This could involve more science or exploration missions in the solar system than pumping money into an expensive rocket that could be outdated on launch.

"I was really surprised and impressed that Administrator Bridenstine made this announcement," he tells Jonathan Goff, president and CEO of startup Altius Space Machines. "I think that's a big deal, especially if they can do it."

Several versions of SLS are being developed with different lifting capabilities. Block 1, which was designed for EM-1 and was a Europa Clipper mission in Europe, can lift 209,000 pounds into orbit. The more powerful Block 1B could put 287,000 pounds into Earth orbit. By comparison, Falcon Heavy can lift 140,000 pounds into Earth orbit, and Delta IV Heavy can make 63,000 pounds.

So if EM-1 does not start with SLS, how would it work? Most likely it seems that both a Falcon Heavy and a Delta IV Heavy Rocket are launched together. The latter would be used to launch the spacecraft itself, while the former could launch the European service module required to reach the moon.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket could be used for launch in June 2020. ASSOCIATED PRESS [19659002] The two components would start at about the same time and then dock in Earth orbit. The service module would then head toward the moon with its fuel and its Orion engines, where it would spin around before returning to Earth.

Some even suspect that only Falcon Heavy could do the mission. "I think it's conceivable they could do it with a single launch of Falcon Heavy when they consume the boosters [rather than landing them back on Earth]," says space consultant Rand Simberg.

In an e-mailed statement, ULA stated that it was prepared to work with NASA on such a mission, although it did not confirm whether it could hold a missile until June 2020. "When asked, we can provide a description of the capabilities of our launch vehicles to meet NASA's needs. They do not match the extremely heavy buoyancy and mission capabilities that SLS offers for NASA's proposed exploration missions.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

NASA says the development of the SLS sequel will follow. NASA's Public Affairs Officer Tracy McMahan told me that the agency was "still working on the start of [SLS] in 2020," and noted that "they had recently completed the upper part of the 212-foot core phase and The two stages will soon join the two lower parts and then assemble the whole stage. "

And Bridenstine stated that this option would bring NASA time to further develop the SLS while continuing to stick to its schedule for human spaceflights The SLS's unrestrained mission would start in 2021, followed by an EM-2 missions mission to lunar orbit in 2022.

"Our goal would be to test Orion 2020 in Lunar orbit and unveil the first SLS for the launch of Housing or other hardware in 2021, "said Bridenstine in a statement." This would put us back in the timetable for a lunar orbit crew in 2022 en, with the added bonus of a lunar target for our astronauts. "

He noted that NASA is now conducting a review of this approach, which would be completed by the end of March 2019. He added, however, that this two-rocket flight from Orion would be unique, not the norm. "Launching two heavy rockets to bring Orion to the moon is neither optimal nor sustainable," he said.

There are still many issues to solve with this potential commercial launch of Orion, if that is the case. For one thing, SpaceX and the ULA would have their rockets ready for launch by June 2020. SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy only once in February 2018 and planned a second launch for next month.

And Orion himself would face some hurdles. Bridenstine found that there is currently no way to dock on something else in orbit. This would be something that would have to be developed quickly before take off if the twin rocket approach were chosen.

Also the problem of financing is the problem. NASA would have to buy these SpaceX and ULA launches, which would require Congress approval. While SpaceX outperformed Falcon Heavy's startup cost of $ 90 million, the Delta IV Heavy is much more expensive at $ 350 million per launch. Given how much has already been spent on SLS, it is unclear whether NASA would receive nearly half a billion dollars for the mission.

Orion could bring astronauts to a planned outpost in the nearby lunar space called the Deep Space Gateway. NASA

What this means for NASA as a whole may be equally interesting. It confirms NASA's growing willingness to collaborate with private companies on space exploration and threatens the future of SLS. "If it does happen, this will probably be the death knell for SLS," says Simberg.

NASA is not averse to working with commercial partners, with Bridenstine in particular keen to drive these partnerships. "NASA administrator Bridenstine has shown a greater propensity for commercial alternatives in many ways," says industry analyst Caleb Williams of consulting firm SpaceWorks.

Of course, SpaceX recently launched its first human-classed spacecraft, the Crew Dragon, with NASA. It is expected that Boeing will do the same this year. The Agency has already awarded freight missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).

But it would raise new questions about the need for the SLS. The reason for its development is already shaky, especially as SpaceX carries out the development of its new super-heavy-lift carrier called Starship. If Orion can launch on commercial missiles, is the SLS still necessary?

"I think the political opposition to this idea is precisely because it makes so much sense," says Goff. "If people had understood that we would spend for the $ 3 billion a year on SLS and ground systems, you could get a dozen lunar missions instead of just one or two a year, if you use commercial vehicles, SLS would be dead." [19659003] If NASA is released in two weeks, all eyes will be on NASA's review. And maybe, maybe just, it could be the beginning of a new, even more commercial era of space exploration. "There is no question that this could be done if NASA wants to implement this and Congress allows it," says Simberg.

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An Artist's impression of the Space Launch System (SLS) [19459009″] Getty

Last week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made an announcement that shocked the world of space: He said the first The launch of the new NASA mega-rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), could instead be outsourced to private companies, and if that happens, it could signal a turnaround by NASA that has as much impact on the future of space travel.

This mission is called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) and was scheduled to launch in June 2020. Here would be an Orion spacecraft, a new four-person NASA vehicle that carries people to the Moon and beyond Launch a unmanned mission around the moon A service module built in Europe will provide propulsion and life support for the mission and future Orion missions. [19659003] Orion had flown once and launched in December 2014 a Delta IV Heavy of the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Since NASA made steady progress, albeit slowly, the first astronauts on board are 2022. However, delays in the SLS made the EM-1 flight appear unlikely in June 2020.

NASA has always insisted that the huge SLS rocket, which was the largest missile defense since Saturn V, is just a rocket that Orion can launch into space. The rocket, however, was heavily criticized. About $ 14 billion has been spent over a decade building the building without a first start in sight. This is at a time when companies like SpaceX have built and fired other big missiles like the Falcon Heavy at a significantly lower cost.

Bridenstine's Commentary on Wednesday by the Senate Commerce Committee in Washington, DC The 13th of March was extremely surprising. "SLS has difficulty keeping to the schedule," he said. "NASA has not had any start dates for a long time. And I try to change that. "

Bridenstine said Orion was not brought to the SLS as planned in June 2020, but other options for the mission were considered. "Some of these options include launching the Orion Crew Capsule and the European Service Module on a commercial rocket," he said. "We could use two heavy rockets to bring the Orion Crew Capsule and the European Service Module into orbit around the Earth."

Orion would take man over Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo missions NASA

In other words, Bridenstine suggested that Orion's flight around the Moon, one of the few reasons for building the SLS could be started in any other way. "We have amazing capabilities that exist now to achieve this goal," he said.

This has understandably sent shockwaves through the space community. Many have long called for the scrapping of the SLS, and the billions of dollars spent on the company's development are better spent elsewhere by NASA. This could involve more science or exploration missions in the solar system than pumping money into an expensive rocket that could be outdated on launch.

"I was really surprised and impressed that Administrator Bridenstine made this announcement," he tells Jonathan Goff, president and CEO of startup Altius Space Machines. "I think that's a big deal, especially if they can do it."

Several versions of SLS are being developed with different lifting capabilities. Block 1, which was designed for EM-1 and was a Europa Clipper mission in Europe, can lift 209,000 pounds into orbit. The more powerful Block 1B could put 287,000 pounds into Earth orbit. By comparison, Falcon Heavy can lift 140,000 pounds into Earth orbit, and Delta IV Heavy can make 63,000 pounds.

So if EM-1 does not start with SLS, how would it work? Most likely it seems that both a Falcon Heavy and a Delta IV Heavy Rocket are launched together. The latter would be used to launch the spacecraft itself, while the former could launch the European service module required to reach the moon.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket could be used for launch in June 2020 ASSOCIATED PRESS [19659002] The two components would be launched at about the same time and then docked in Earth orbit. The service module would then head toward the moon with its fuel and its Orion engines, where it would spin around before returning to Earth.

Some even suspect that only Falcon Heavy could do the mission. "I think it's conceivable they could do it with a single launch of Falcon Heavy when they consume the boosters [rather than landing them back on Earth]," says space consultant Rand Simberg.

In an e-mailed statement, ULA stated that it was prepared to work with NASA on such a mission, although it did not confirm whether it could hold a missile until June 2020. "When asked, we can provide a description of the capabilities of our launch vehicles to meet NASA's needs. They do not match the extremely heavy buoyancy and mission capabilities that SLS offers for NASA's proposed exploration missions.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

NASA says the development of the SLS sequel will follow. NASA's Public Affairs Officer Tracy McMahan told me that the agency was "still working on the start of [SLS] in 2020," and noted that "they had recently completed the upper part of the 212-foot core phase and The two stages will soon join the two lower parts and then assemble the whole stage. "

And Bridenstine stated that this option would bring NASA time to further develop the SLS while continuing to stick to its schedule for human spaceflights The SLS's unrestrained mission would start in 2021, followed by an EM-2 missions mission to lunar orbit in 2022.

"Our goal would be to test Orion 2020 in Lunar orbit and unveil the first SLS for the launch of Housing or other hardware in 2021, "said Bridenstine in a statement." This would put us back in the timetable for a lunar orbit crew in 2022 en, with the added bonus of a lunar target for our astronauts. "

He noted that NASA is now conducting a review of this approach, which would be completed by the end of March 2019. He added, however, that this two-rocket flight from Orion would be unique, not the norm. "Launching two heavy rockets to bring Orion to the moon is neither optimal nor sustainable," he said.

There are still many issues to solve with this potential commercial launch of Orion, if that is the case. For one thing, SpaceX and the ULA would have their rockets ready for launch by June 2020. SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy only once in February 2018 and planned a second launch for next month.

And Orion himself would face some hurdles. Bridenstine found that there is currently no way to dock on something else in orbit. This would be something that would have to be developed quickly before take off if the twin rocket approach were chosen.

Also the problem of financing is the problem. NASA would have to buy these SpaceX and ULA launches, which would require Congress approval. While SpaceX outperformed Falcon Heavy's startup cost of $ 90 million, the Delta IV Heavy is much more expensive at $ 350 million per launch. Given how much has already been spent on SLS, it is unclear whether NASA would receive nearly half a billion dollars for the mission.

Orion could bring astronauts to a planned outpost in the nearby lunar space called the Deep Space Gateway. NASA

What this means for NASA as a whole may be equally interesting. It confirms NASA's growing willingness to collaborate with private companies on space exploration and threatens the future of SLS. "If it does happen, this will probably be the death knell for SLS," says Simberg.

NASA is not averse to working with commercial partners, with Bridenstine in particular keen to drive these partnerships. "NASA administrator Bridenstine has shown a greater propensity for commercial alternatives in many ways," says industry analyst Caleb Williams of consulting firm SpaceWorks.

Of course, SpaceX recently launched its first human-classed spacecraft, the Crew Dragon, with NASA. It is expected that Boeing will do the same this year. The Agency has already awarded freight missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).

But it would raise new questions about the need for the SLS. The reason for its development is already shaky, especially as SpaceX carries out the development of its new super-heavy-lift carrier called Starship. If Orion can launch on commercial missiles, is the SLS still necessary?

"I think the political opposition to this idea is precisely because it makes so much sense," says Goff. "If people had understood that we would spend for the $ 3 billion a year on SLS and ground systems, you could get a dozen lunar missions instead of just one or two a year, if you use commercial vehicles, SLS would be dead." [19659003] If NASA is released in two weeks, all eyes will be on NASA's review. And maybe, maybe just, it could be the beginning of a new, even more commercial era of space exploration. "There is no question that this could be done if NASA wants to do it, and Congress will allow it," says Simberg.


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