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Home / Science / The NASA chief calls SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a bizarre statement about the Starship event

The NASA chief calls SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a bizarre statement about the Starship event

About 24 hours before SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was due to submit an update on the development of the Starship launcher, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted a bizarre and completely unprovoked statement on the subject with the public awareness spread by Elon Musk the comment of the NASA administrator was rightly widely criticized by the space flight community.

First, a context. The NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) was established in 2010 and received substantial financial support 12 to 24 months later. It replaces the spacecraft astronaut capabilities that Space Shuttle once offered and has now been awarded seating contracts on Russian Soyuz launches. The Space Shuttle was primarily the result of an inadequate bureaucracy at NASA and Congress, and was "retired" in 201

1, knowing that the US needed to rely on Russia to deliver NASA astronauts to the ISS by 2015 bring (at the earliest).

The Congress made several proposals for 2010 to continue the shuttle flights until the end of the 2010s. Instead, it was decided to kill the shuttle and redirect the associated funds to the consumable rocket Ares V (now Space Launch System, SLS) and the Orion Crew Capsule. More on that later. ..

This is the absolute best-case interpretation of the comment by the NASA administrator. Although Eric Berger feels well, NASA's interpretation gives much too much credit. In particular, Bridenstine (or whoever gave him the testimony) did everything to make them completely one-sided in their focus on SpaceX. Without Elon Musk's plans to present himself on Starship, it would apparently never have been released. Bridenstine also notes that "Commercial Crew is years behind schedule" and states that "NASA expects the same amount of enthusiasm to focus on [its] investments."

All in all, it's simply impossible to interpret it as something other than that Bridenstine's SpaceX – and SpaceX's only – scolds because it does not fall to the ground, kisses NASA's feet and pretends to be Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 are the only existing things. Absent from Bridenstine's criticism was NASA's other (and even more beleaguered) commercial crew partner, Boeing, who has not yet completed a pad-crash or orbital flight test on his Starliner spacecraft. SpaceX finished Crew Dragon's pad demolition in 2015 and completed a flawless orbital flight test in March 2019.

Render of Boeing's Starliner spaceship. (Boeing)
A recent photo of Crew Dragon in orbit. (NASA)

In essence, Bridenstine publicly implies that SpaceX must stop (or seems distracted by Starship) and focus 100% on Crew Dragon. Boeing was not mentioned even though he was behind SpaceX for at least six months and was dramatically more distracted in the Bridenstine interpretation of the word. For reference, Boeing is a publicly traded company with 150,000 employees, annual revenues of more than $ 100 billion, and a market capitalization of $ 206 billion. Boeing has 14 subsidiaries, of which a handful are involved in aerospace, and no less than one or two dozen products that are more tax-sensitive for shareholders and board members than Starliner.

Compared to Boeing's annual turnover of [$19459007] ~ $ 100 billion, the total Starliner development program – from the drawing board in 2010 to manned spacecraft in orbit sometime in 2020 – is ~ $ 4.8 billion USD. In terms of corporate focus, Starliner is likely to have been a slip-up in 2019, with the company likely to focus more on the systematic organizational shortcomings that led to the death of hundreds of people in two nearly identical 737 MAX accidents. Unfortunately, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine did not release a public statement stating that Boeing will have to show the same level of enthusiasm for Starliner following the second deadly crash of the 737 MAX in March 2019. Focus on continuing reports of problems with the Pegasus tanker program The company's KC-46, Boeing's recent $ 9.2 billion US jet aircraft coaching contract, or a host of other corporate interests.

A Boeing Starliner test article prepares for thermal vacuum testing (TVac) in January 2019. Starliner's Unscrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT), similar to Crew Dragon's DM-1 launch in March 2019, is not expected to be completed before November or December 2019. (NASA)

On the other hand, as Musk noted in his relatively subtle responses of September 28 to Bridenstein's implicitly derisive commentary, about 50-80% of SpaceX's total workforce and resources are concentrated on the Dragon crew, the Falcon 9 missiles that launch it, or a combination of both. Currently Starship is at most a side project, although its strategic importance for SpaceX is hard to exaggerate. The same goes for Starlink, SpaceX's ambitious Internet satellite constellation program. It may be true that Starship Crew and Cargo Dragon (as well as Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy) will eventually be superfluous, but that will likely take years, and SpaceX will support NASA as contracted for as long as The Space Agency is very interested in the use of Crew Dragon.

At the same time, NASA has explicitly and publicly decided to prioritize security ahead of schedule for the Commercial Crew Program and to accept the possibility of delays and cost overruns to ensure SpaceX and Boeing can build the safest spaceship, that is possible.

In an interview with CNN on September 28, Musk bluntly stated that the hardware was more or less ready to fly at SpaceX, Pad 39A, Florida, within the next two months. According to Musk, additional startup delays from this point on are almost entirely due to the documents and checks that NASA must complete before SpaceX can launch. If Bridenstine wants SpaceX to launch astronauts earlier, one solution – and possibly the only one – is to remove the obstacles caused by the bureaucracy imposed by NASA itself. So the question is whether Bridenstine wants to reduce bureaucracy, which for good reason can (or does not) exist.

If the pot calls the kettle black non-NASA program, which complains about delays of the trading team, at least something is more reasonable. Initially scheduled to launch in 2015, Congress has systematically underfunded the Commercial Crew Program for more than half a decade by more than 50% and $ 5.4 billion of the 5.8 billion required by 2011-2016 USD scattered by NASA Completely redesigned development plans for Boeing and SpaceX. Until September 2014, SpaceX was aiming to have Crew Dragon certified by NASA for astronaut shipping before the end of 2017, but even then, NASA already considered this timetable as too optimistic.

It would be another two years before Congress began seriously financing the trade team at the desired levels , starting in FY2016. Responding to Bridenstine, former assistant NASA administrator Lori Garver noted that over the course of the congress hundreds of millions of dollars in critical funds had been withheld by the commercial crew over a period of about five years. beyond their budget requirements. From 2011 to 2016 alone, SLS and Orion programs demanded $ 11 billion and unbelievably $ 16.3 billion (148%) from Congress, while Commercial Crew spent $ 5.8 billion and $ 2.4 billion (41 %) demanded.

NASA's SLS rocket in Block 1 configuration with the Orion capsule on top. (NASA)

Although SLS and Orion are literally getting nearly seven times as much money as Crew Dragon and Starliner, ironically they are just as late, if not more, than their commercial brothers. Originally intended to launch a test flight without crew in 2017, there is little chance that this mission (then known as EM-1 and now known as Artemis-1) will launch before 2022, which is approximately half a decade late. The cost of the SLS / Orion program was recently $ 30 billion, a figure that is likely to rise to $ 40 billion once it has been started. About one-third of these funds went to Boeing, the main contractor for NASA's weirdly delayed SLS Core Stage – the orange boosters pictured above.

The commercial crew development program is expected to cost NASA a total of $ 8 billion over 9-10 years and produce two clean, powerful, (relatively) cost-effective spaceships with crew. Upon completion of the demonstration launches, NASA will switch to fixed-price service contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to routinely send astronauts to the ISS several times a year.

If Bridenstine really wanted to defend "the US taxpayer's investment" instead of using her sanctity as a political weapon, he would not have been like a house of cards at the slightest resistance to his culling attempts. SLS / Orion is delayed and causes cost overruns and he certainly would not waste his breath complaining about what the CEO of SpaceX is or not and providing unique insights into SpaceX's rocket launch and recovery processes .

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