from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
The first SLS flight, around the moon, will not include a crew.
The first flight of NASA's next-generation heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is now scheduled for 2019 and will not include a human crew, agency officials said today (May 12).
As of 2016, NASA had planned for the SLS' first flight to take place in 2018, without a crew on board. But the transition team that the Trump administration sent to the agency earlier this year asked for an internal evaluation of the possibility of launching a crew atop the SLS inside the agency's Orion space capsule.
Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, said during a news conference today that, based on the results of this internal evaluation, a crewed flight would be "technically feasible," but the agency will proceed with its initial plan to make the rocket's first flight uncrewed.
[...] SLS' first flight will be called Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1, and will send an uncrewed Orion capsule (which has already made one uncrewed test flight, aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket) on a roughly three-week trip around the moon. The first crewed flight, EM-2, was originally scheduled to follow in 2021.
Source:NASA Won't Fly Astronauts On 1st Orion-SLS Test Flight Around the Moon
NASA Study Warns Against Putting Crew On Huge Rocket's First Flight
NASA Denies Trump's Request to Send Astronauts Past the Moon on New Rocket
SpaceX might beat SLS to the moon with humans.
Two paying customers will travel to the "deep space" beyond the Moon. SpaceX will use the Falcon Heavy to deliver an automated Crew Dragon capsule carrying the unnamed customers next year. Falcon Heavy has not flown yet, and is expected to be tested this summer. NASA will use the Crew Dragon capsule to send astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018, after an unmanned test this year.
SpaceX will not reveal the identities of the participants until they complete health and fitness tests:
We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
The first launch of the SLS has slipped again:
NASA has decided it must delay the maiden flight of its Space Launch System rocket, presently scheduled for November 2018, until at least early 2019. This decision was widely expected due to several problems with the rocket, Orion spacecraft, and ground launch systems. The delay was confirmed in a letter from a NASA official released Thursday by the US Government Accountability Office.
The Falcon Heavy will be able to deliver payloads that are similar to what SLS Block 1 can carry:
In its maiden flight configuration, named Block 1, the heavy-lifter will be able to haul up to 77 tons (70 metric tons) of cargo to low Earth orbit, more than double the capacity of the most powerful launcher flying today — United Launch Alliance's Delta 4-Heavy. The Block 1 version of SLS will fly with an upper stage propelled by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine, based on the Delta 4's second stage.
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, scheduled to make its first flight later this year, will come in just shy of the SLS Block 1's capacity if the commercial space company gave up recovering its booster stages.
NASA plans to introduce a bigger four-engine second stage on the EM-2 launch, a configuration of the SLS named Block 1B.
In recent months, the executive secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, has worked assiduously behind the scenes to develop a formal space policy for the Trump administration. In a rare interview, published Monday in Scientific American, Pace elaborated on some of the policy decisions he has been helping to make.
In the interview, Pace explained why the Trump administration has chosen to focus on the Moon first for human exploration while relegating Mars to becoming a "horizon goal," effectively putting human missions to the Red Planet decades into the future. Mars was too ambitious, Pace said, and such a goal would have precluded meaningful involvement from the burgeoning US commercial sector as well as international partners. Specific plans for how NASA will return to the Moon should become more concrete within the next year, he added.
In response to a question about privately developed, heavy-lift boosters, the executive secretary also reiterated his skepticism that such "commercial" rockets developed by Blue Origin and SpaceX could compete with the government's Space Launch System rocket, which is likely to make its maiden flight in 2020. "Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers," Pace said. "There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn't hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more 'commercial' than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be."
I thought flying non-reusable pork rockets was about the money, not strategy. SpaceX is set to launch Falcon Heavy for the first time no earlier than December 29. It will have over 90% of the low Earth orbit capacity as the initial version of the SLS (63.8 metric tons vs. 70).
Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
Commercial Space Companies Want More Money From NASA
U.S. Air Force Will Eventually Launch Using SpaceX's Reused Rockets
NASA Administrator ponders what to do with the SLS rocket. During a Q&A with Politico, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was asked about how the space agency views commercial launch vehicles. His response: "As we move forward, we're going to have to maybe rethink... at what point do we start taking advantage of those commercial capabilities to the extent that they drive down cost, give us more capability, and what do we do with SLS?... We're not there yet, but certainly there's a horizon here. Is it 10 years? I don't know what the answer is, but what we can't do in my view is give up our government capability, our national capability, when we don't have an alternative."
Speaking of timelines ... NASA doesn't exactly have the "national capability" of the SLS rocket yet in the heavy-lift class, either. We've heard rumors of a slip to 2021 for the first launch date, in which case Blue Origin's New Glenn has a fighting chance to fly first, as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has already done.
Blue Origin targets Moon landing by 2023. Blue Origin's business development director, A.C. Charania, said at a conference that the company's Blue Moon program is "our first step to developing a lunar landing capability for the country, for other customers internationally, to be able to land multi metric tons on the lunar surface." The company has not said what role its large orbital rocket under development, New Glenn, would play in a mission to the Moon.
BFR is a privately funded next-generation reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft system developed by SpaceX. It was announced by Elon Musk in September 2017. The overall space vehicle architecture includes both launch vehicles and spacecraft that are intended to completely replace all of SpaceX's existing space hardware by the early 2020s as well as ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch, and zero-gravity propellant transfer technology to be deployed in low Earth orbit (LEO). The large payload to Earth orbit of up to 150,000 kg (330,000 lb) makes BFR a super heavy-lift launch vehicle. Manufacture of the first upper stage/spacecraft prototype began by March 2018, and the ship is projected to begin testing in early 2019.
Related: First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
NASA Could Scale Down First Manned Flight of the SLS
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Serious About Returning to the Moon
Jeff Bezos Details Moon Settlement Ambitions in Interview
This Week in Space Pessimism: SLS, Mars, and Lunar Gateway
[One] problem with legacy hardware, built by traditional contractors such as Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne, is that it's expensive. And while NASA has not released per-flight estimates of the expendable SLS rocket's cost, conservative estimates peg it at $1.5 to $2.5 billion per launch. The cost is so high that it effectively precludes more than one to two SLS launches per year.
[...] [The RL-10] engines, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are also costly. (Ars understands that NASA paid an average of $17 million for each RL-10 engine for the maiden Exploration Upper Stage vehicle). So in October, to power the EUS, the space agency issued a request for information to the aerospace community for "a low cost drop-in replacement engine to minimize program cost." According to the document, the initial set of four engines would be needed in mid-2023 to prepare for the third flight of the SLS rocket, known as Exploration Mission-3.
Then, after an extension of the deadline for responses beyond mid-November, NASA revised the RFI on December 1. The revised document no longer seeks a "drop-in replacement" for the RL-10 engine, rather it asks for a "low-cost replacement engine." Although this seems like a subtle change, sources within the aerospace industry indicated to Ars that it is significant. According to NASA, it was done to increase the number of responses.
[...] That would probably include Blue Origin's BE-3U engine, which the company plans to use for its upper stage on the New Glenn heavy lift rocket. This is a modified version of the BE-3 engine that powers the New Shepard rocket, which has now flown successfully seven times. Blue Origin has previously marketed the BE-3U to Orbital ATK for its Next Generation Launch System, which is looking for an upper stage engine. A single BE-3U provides about 120,000 pounds of thrust, which exceeds the 100,000 pounds of thrust provided by four RL-10 engines.
Just cancel SLS and give that money to SpaceX, Blue Origin, or anybody willing to launch competitively.
Related: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
First SLS Mission Will be Unmanned
Commercial Space Companies Want More Money From NASA
Trump Space Adviser: Mars "Too Ambitious" and SLS is a Strategic National Asset
Boeing CEO Says His Company Will Carry Humans to Mars Before SpaceX
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1