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The NASA boss explains why the agency will not buy Falcon Heavy missiles



Enlarge / William Gerstenmaier, NASA's Head of Spaceflight, Speaks on the First Day of the Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium 2017.

Since the Falcon Heavy Rocket Launched in February NASA English: www English:. The EU has made some uncomfortable questions about the affordability of its own space launch system rocket. It is estimated that NASA could afford between 1

7 and 27 Falcon Heavy Starts per year, contributing to the development of the SLS rocket annually, which will not fly until 2020. Even President Trump Has Reflected on the High Cost of the NASA Rocket [19659003] Wayne Hale, former head of the Space Shuttle program, raised this issue on Monday, during a NASA Advisory Board meeting. After a presentation by NASA head of human spaceflight Bill Gerstenmaier, Hale asked if the space agency would not be better off with the cheaper commercial missile.

"Now that the Falcon Heavy has been flown and demonstrated, the cost of doing so is pretty low," Hale said. "So there are many people who ask, why do not we just buy four or five or six of them and do what we need to do without building that big, heavy rocket and putting things together like we did with the space station?"

In response, Gerstenmaier Hale and other members of the Advisory Committee – consisting of external aerospace experts who provide non-binding advice to the Space Agency – referred to a diagram he had previously presented in the presentation. This map shows the payload capacity of the Space Launch system in different configurations in terms of mass sent to the Moon.

"Much smaller"

"It's much smaller than all of those," said Gerstenmaier. The payload capacity of the Falcon Heavy is TLI or "trans-lunar injection", which effectively means the amount of mass coming from the near-Earth Orbit can be broken out and sent into a moon trajectory. In the table, the SLS Block 1 rocket has a TLI capacity of 26 tonnes. (The table also includes the more advanced Block 2 version of the 45-tonne SLS, but this rocket is at least a decade away and requires billions of dollars more for design and development.)

  Lunar Injection Mass Ability for Space Launch System Rocket Variations

Trans Lunar Injection Mass Ability Chart for Space Launch System Rocket Variations

NASA

[19659003] SpaceX has the TLI capacity the Falcon Heavy missile is not publicly stated, but for the fully extendable version of the booster, it is likely somewhere in the range of 18 and 22 tonnes. This is a value approximately between the published capacity of the vehicle for a geostationary orbit of 26.7 tons and Mars of 16.8 tons.

Gerstenmaier then said the NASA exploration program will require the unique capabilities of the SLS rocket. "I think there will still be large-volume, monolithic pieces that require SLS capability to launch them into space," he said. "Then for routine maintenance and freight, maybe smaller crew vehicles except Orion, then Falcon Heavy can play a role." What happened to [Jeff] Bezos can matter. "What United Launch Alliance has talked about can play role." [19659012] "And" not "or"

Afterwards, Gerstenmaier reiterated NASA's standard position regarding the SLS and much cheaper launch solutions that there is room for everyone in the industry. "I do not see it as 'either / or; I see it as a' and # 39;" he said. "We're trying to create a plan that uses SLS for its unique ability of large volumes and a large single mass in a take-off." The cargo capacity is quite astonishing with SLS. "You can launch a large part of the gateway in one flight; I'm not sure that you could even break some of these pieces into these smaller pieces to put them on a smaller rocket. "

One difficulty with Gerstenmaier's answer to Hales question is that NASA does does not do that. in fact, some "large-volume, monolithic pieces" that could only be started by the Space Launch System. The cornerstone of the 2020s exploration plans is the Lunar Orbiting Platform Gateway, a small space station orbiting the moon. The first piece of this station, a power and propulsion module, will launch in 2022 aboard a commercial rocket. Indeed, in the early stages of requesting and accepting designs for the other components of it, NASA indeed remains "Gateway," including airlocks and residential areas.

These could theoretically at least be designed to fit within the mass and size constraints of a Falcon Heavy or other planned commercial launch vehicle. This could potentially save billions of dollars for NASA and enable it to spend significantly more on exploration activities.


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