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posted by martyb on Thursday May 10 2018, @09:52AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Lucy...in-the-sky-with-diamonds? dept.

NASA chief on Moon return: "This will not be Lucy and the football again"

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, a long-range commitment toward the human exploration of deep space, beginning with a return to the Moon. "Major parts of that policy went forward, but establishing permanence on the Moon was abandoned," Bridenstine said Tuesday. Then, in 2004, President George W. Bush announced a bold plan to send humans back to the Moon, where they would learn how to operate in deep space and then go on to Mars. This became the Constellation program. Again, major parts of that policy went forward, Bridenstine said. But NASA abandoned the drive back to the Moon.

Before the US Senate confirmed pilot and former congressman Bridenstine, the Trump administration announced a plan to send humans back to the Moon. "To many, this may sound similar to our previous attempts to get to the Moon," Bridenstine said Tuesday. "However, times have changed. This will not be Lucy and the football again."

How have times changed? During his brief address, Bridenstine listed several technologies that he believes have lowered the cost of a lunar return. These include the miniaturization of electronics that will allow for smaller robotic vehicles, the decreasing costs of launch, private investment in spaceflight, commercial interest in lunar resources, and new ways of government contracting. (Bridenstine did not mention the Space Launch System rocket or the Orion spacecraft).

The speech was only a few minutes long, so I wouldn't read too much into the absence of SLS/Orion. But it's no secret that BFR could deliver 150 metric tons to the Moon or Mars by using in-orbit refueling, vs. a lot less when using the expensive SLS.

Previously:

Related:


Original Submission

Related Stories

Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again? 78 comments

NASA seems hell bent to go to Mars, but can't afford to on its own.
Its international partners have no stomach for that — they would would rather return to our moon and build a base there for further exploration.

Doesn't going back to the moon make more sense? Build a base on the moon, and use its low gravity and possible water at the poles as propellant for further space exploration?

Why not the moon first?

http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/7/11868840/moon-return-journey-to-mars-nasa-congress-space-policy

Links:
From NASA itself, in 2008: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/series/moon/why_go_back.html
The all-knowing, ever-trustworthy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_the_Moon


Original Submission

How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently 56 comments

Howard Bloom has written a guest blog at Scientific American addressing the Trump Administration's plan to return to (orbit) the Moon. That mission would use the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, which have cost $18 billion through 2017 but are not expected to launch astronauts into space until around 2023. Bloom instead proposes using private industry to put a base on the Moon, using technology such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (estimated $135 million per launch vs. $500 million for the Space Launch System) and Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable habitat modules:

[NASA's acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot's problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that's too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that's far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon's vicinity, they cannot land.

Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.

[...] In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What's more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon's surface.

[...] If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow's landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX's Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations...plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

An organization that Howard Bloom founded, The Space Development Steering Committee, has been short one member recently (Edgar Mitchell).


Original Submission

Politics: President Trump Nominates Congressman Jim Bridenstine to Lead NASA 52 comments

President Trump has nominated Representative Jim Bridenstine as NASA's next administrator, to replace the acting administrator Robert M. Lightfoot:

Representative Jim Bridenstine, Republican of Oklahoma, will be nominated by President Trump to serve as NASA's next administrator, the White House said on Friday night.

Mr. Bridenstine, a strong advocate for drawing private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin more deeply into NASA's exploration of space, had been rumored to be the leading candidate for the job, but months passed without an announcement. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Bridenstine, 42, would be the first elected official to hold that job.

[...] Although NASA has little presence in Oklahoma, Mr. Bridenstine, a former Navy Reserve pilot who is now in his third term in the House [of] Representatives, has long had an interest in space. Before being elected to Congress in 2012, he was executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium from 2008 to 2010.

[...] Mr. Bridenstine has supported a return to the moon, a departure from the Obama administration's focus on sending astronauts to Mars in coming decades.

Florida's Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson blasted the choice. Nelson said that "The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician."

NASA statement. NASA Watch analysis.


Original Submission

President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1 100 comments

No more sending humans to an asteroid. We're going back to the Moon:

The policy calls for the NASA administrator to "lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities." The effort will more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

"The directive I am signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," said President Trump. "It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints -- we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond."

The policy grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, after its first meeting Oct. 5. In addition to the direction to plan for human return to the Moon, the policy also ends NASA's existing effort to send humans to an asteroid. The president revived the National Space Council in July to advise and help implement his space policy with exploration as a national priority.

President's remarks and White House release.

Presidential Memorandum on Reinvigorating America's Human Space Exploration Program

Also at Reuters and New Scientist.

Previously: Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022


Original Submission

After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System? 57 comments

An op-ed written by Lori Garver, a former deputy administrator of NASA, suggests cancelling the Space Launch System in favor of Falcon Heavy and BFR:

SpaceX could save NASA and the future of space exploration

The successful launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is a game-changer that could actually save NASA and the future of space exploration. [...] Unfortunately, the traditionalists at NASA — and their beltway bandit allies — don't share this view and have feared this moment since the day the Falcon Heavy program was announced seven years ago.

The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket that is unnecessary and obsolete now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost? [...] Once operational, SLS will cost NASA over $1 billion per launch. The Falcon Heavy, developed at zero cost to the taxpayer, would charge NASA approximately $100M per launch. In other words, NASA could buy 10 Falcon Heavy launches for the coat of one SLS launch — and invest the remainder in truly revolutionary and meaningful missions that advance science and exploration.

While SLS may be a "government-made rocket", the "beltway bandits", also known as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, are heavily involved in its development. The United Launch Alliance (Boeing + Lockheed Martin) have also shown that they can build their own expensive rocket: the Delta IV Heavy, which can carry less than half the payload to LEO of Falcon Heavy while costing over four times as much per launch.

NASA's marketing of how many elephants, locomotives and airplanes could be launched by various versions of SLS is a perfect example of the frivolity of developing, building and operating their own rocket. NASA advertises that it will be able to launch 12.5 elephants to LEO on Block I SLS, or 2.8 more elephants than the Falcon Heavy could launch. But if we are counting elephants — the planned Block II version of SLS could launch 30 elephants, while SpaceX's BFR could launch 34. Talk about significant.

Wait, what? 70 metric tons (SLS Block 1) / 63.8 metric tons (Falcon Heavy) = ~1.09717868339. 1.097 * (12.5 - 2.8) = ~10.6 elephants lifted by SLS Block 1 versus 9.7 for Falcon Heavy.

NASA documents list 12 elephants for SLS Block 1 (70 metric tons), and 22 for SLS Block 2 (130 metric tons). The author might have lifted some numbers from a Business Insider article that (incorrectly) estimates that 12.5 elephants can be lifted by Falcon Heavy, while SLS Block 2 can lift 30 elephants, and 34 for BFR. Perhaps we are dealing with a mix of adult and juvenile elephants?

President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort 65 comments

Trump on Falcon Heavy: "I'm so used to hearing different numbers with NASA"

During a cabinet meeting on Thursday inside the White House, President Donald Trump called attention to several model rockets on the table before him. They included an Atlas V, a Falcon 9, a Space Launch System, and more. The president seemed enthused to see the launch vehicles. "Before me are some rocket ships," the president said. "You haven't seen that for this country in a long time."

Then, in remarks probably best characterized as spur of the moment, the president proceeded to absolutely demolish the government's own effort to build rockets by noting the recent launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. He cited the cost as $80 million. (The list price on SpaceX's website is $90 million.)

"I noticed the prices of the last one they say cost $80 million," Trump said. "If the government did it, the same thing would have cost probably 40 or 50 times that amount of money. I mean literally. When I heard $80 million, I'm so used to hearing different numbers with NASA.''

NASA has not, in fact, set a price for flying the SLS rocket. But Ars has previously estimated that, including the billions of dollars in development cost, the per-flight fees for the SLS rocket will probably be close to $3 billion. Indeed, the development costs of SLS and its ground systems between now and its first flight could purchase 86 launches of the privately developed Falcon Heavy rocket. So President Trump's estimate of NASA's costs compared to private industry does not appear to be wildly off the mark.

[*] SLS: Space Launch System

Related: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
WFIRST Space Observatory Could be Scaled Back Due to Costs
Safety Panel Raises Concerns Over SpaceX and Boeing Commercial Crew Plans
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
Trump Administration Budget Proposal Would Cancel WFIRST
Leaning Tower of NASA
NASA Moving to Scale Back the Space Technology Mission Directorate


Original Submission

NASA's Acting Administrator to Retire as Nominee Impasse Continues 21 comments

NASA's acting administrator, Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., has announced that he will retire on April 30. The U.S. Senate has not yet voted on confirming Jim Bridenstine as a permanent replacement:

[...] In September, President Trump nominated Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, to be the next administrator. But the Senate has yet to vote to confirm Mr. Bridenstine.

All 49 Democrats in the Senate appear unified in opposition, in part because Mr. Bridenstine gave a speech disparaging climate change several years ago. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has also expressed doubts about Mr. Bridenstine.

The space agency's No. 2 position, deputy administrator, is vacant. The Trump administration has yet to nominate anyone. Steve Jurczyk, formerly the associate administrator for space technology, was named in late February as a temporary fill-in for Mr. Lightfoot's previous job, associate administrator. NASA is also lacking a chief of staff.

[...] Mr. Lightfoot's 406 days as acting administrator is by far the longest NASA has operated without a permanent leader, eclipsing the 176 days that passed at the start of the Obama administration before Mr. Bolden was confirmed.

Previously: President Trump Nominates Congressman Jim Bridenstine to Lead NASA

Related: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1


Original Submission

NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station 43 comments

NASA chief explains why agency won't buy a bunch of Falcon Heavy rockets

Since the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, NASA has faced some uncomfortable questions about the affordability of its own Space Launch System rocket. By some estimates, NASA could afford 17 to 27 Falcon Heavy launches a year for what it is paying annually to develop the SLS rocket, which won't fly before 2020. Even President Trump has mused about the high costs of NASA's rocket. On Monday, during a committee meeting of NASA's Advisory Council, former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale raised this issue. Following a presentation by Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of human spaceflight for NASA, Hale asked whether the space agency wouldn't be better off going with the cheaper commercial rocket.

[...] In response, Gerstenmaier pointed Hale and other members of the advisory committee—composed of external aerospace experts who provide non-binding advice to the space agency—to a chart he had shown earlier in the presentation. This chart showed the payload capacity of the Space Launch System in various configurations in terms of mass sent to the Moon. "It's a lot smaller than any of those," Gerstenmaier said, referring to the Falcon Heavy's payload capacity to TLI, or "trans-lunar injection," which effectively means the amount of mass that can be broken out of low-Earth orbit and sent into a lunar trajectory. In the chart, the SLS Block 1 rocket has a TLI capacity of 26 metric tons. (The chart also contains the more advanced Block 2 version of the SLS, with a capacity of 45 tons. However, this rocket is at least a decade away, and it will require billions of dollars more to design and develop.)

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy TLI capacity is unknown, but estimated to be somewhere between 18 and 22 tons (between the known payloads of 16.8 tons to Mars and 26.7 tons to geostationary orbit).

Does the SLS need to launch more than 18 tons to TLI? No. All of the currently planned components of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly the Deep Space Gateway) have a mass of 10 tons or less due to flying alongside a crewed Orion capsule rather than by themselves. Only by 2027's Exploration Mission 6 would NASA launch more massive payloads, by which time SpaceX's BFR could take 150 tons to TLI or even Mars when using in-orbit refueling.

Related: NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort


Original Submission

2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration 56 comments

NASA is going back to the Moon, perhaps permanently, as seen in a new road map (image):

Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.

"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.

While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.

To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:

  • Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
  • Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
  • Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
  • Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.

This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.

Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1

Related:


Original Submission

Politics: Senate Narrowly Confirms Trump's Pick to Head NASA 45 comments

Oklahoma Representative James Bridenstine, a Navy Reserve pilot, was confirmed as NASA's 13th administrator on Thursday.

In a 50-49 vote Thursday, Oklahoma Representative James Bridenstine, a Navy Reserve pilot, was confirmed as NASA's 13th administrator, an agency that usually is kept away from partisanship. His three predecessors — two nominated by Republicans — were all approved unanimously. Before that, one NASA chief served under three presidents, two Republicans and a Democrat.

The two days of voting were as tense as a launch countdown.

A procedural vote Wednesday initially ended in a 49-49 tie — Vice President Mike Pence, who normally breaks a tie, was at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida — before Arizona Republican Jeff Flake switched from opposition to support, using his vote as leverage to address an unrelated issue.

Thursday's vote included the drama of another delayed but approving vote by Flake, a last-minute no vote by Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth — who wheeled onto the floor with her 10-day-old baby in tow — and the possibility of a tie-breaker by Pence, who was back in town.


Original Submission

NASA Cancels Lunar Rover 21 comments

The Washington Post reports that NASA "has canceled its only lunar rover currently in development," Resource Prospector. From Wikipedia:

Resource Prospector is a cancelled mission concept by NASA of a rover that would have performed a survey expedition on a polar region of the Moon. The rover was to attempt to detect and map the location of volatiles such as hydrogen, oxygen and lunar water which could foster more affordable and sustainable human exploration to the Moon, Mars, and other Solar System bodies.

The mission concept was still in its pre-formulation stage, when it was scrapped in April 2018. The Resource Prospector mission was proposed to be launched in 2022.

takyon: Meanwhile, NASA is "pushing hard on deep space exploration" with the Moon as its goal.

Also at Space.com, The Verge, and Fortune.


Original Submission

Space Policy Directive-3 Calls for U.S. to Manage Space Debris 10 comments

NASA Administrator expresses support for Space Policy Directive-3

With the threat of space debris destroying satellites, crewed spacecraft and even the International Space Station increasing, processes have been initiated to help alleviate and prevent this threat. NASA's new Administrator Jim Bridenstine made several statements about the new Space Policy Directive-3, which was signed by President Trump. During the June 18, 2018, meeting of the National Space Council, Trump signed SPD-3, which directs the U.S. to lead the management of space traffic and mitigate the effects of space debris.

[...] This comes less than a month after the signing of SPD-2, which called for the reform of the United States' commercial space regulatory framework. Additionally, SPD-1 was signed in December 2017, which instructed NASA to return U.S. astronauts to the Moon with the eventual goal of human flights to Mars.

[...] One of the main features of SPD-3 is the management of space debris. It calls for the U.S. to utilize government and commercial technologies to track and monitor debris and set new guidelines for satellite for satellite design and operation.

Additionally, it calls for the update of the U.S. government's Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices, which currently states that spacecraft and upper stages should be designed to eliminate or minimize debris released during normal operations. Additionally, any debris larger than five millimeters that is expected to remain in orbit for more than 25 years is to be justified on the basis of cost and mission requirements.

NASA Administrator statement.

Related: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Serious About Returning to the Moon
Jeff Bezos Details Moon Settlement Ambitions in Interview


Original Submission

NASA Administrator Bridenstine Says It Won't Cost Much to Get Back to the Moon 29 comments

Going Back to the Moon Won't Break the Bank, NASA Chief Says

Sending humans back to the moon won't require a big Apollo-style budget boost, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. During the height of the Apollo program in the mid-1960s, NASA gobbled up about 4.5 percent of the federal budget. This massive influx of resources helped the space agency make good on President John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 promise to get astronauts to the moon, and safely home to Earth again, before the end of the decade. NASA's budget share now hovers around just 0.5 percent. But something in that range should be enough to mount crewed lunar missions in the next 10 years or so, as President Donald Trump has instructed NASA to do with his Space Policy Directive 1, Bridenstine told reporters yesterday (Aug. 30) here at NASA's Ames Research Center.

The key lies in not going it alone and continuing to get relatively modest but important financial bumps, he added. (Congress allocated over $20.7 billion to NASA in the 2018 omnibus spending bill — about $1.1 billion more than the agency got in the previous year's omnibus bill.)

"We now have more space agencies on the surface of the planet than we've ever had before. And even countries that don't have a space agency — they have space activities, and they want to partner with us on our return to the moon," Bridenstine said in response to a question from Space.com. "And, at the same time, we have a robust commercial marketplace of people that can provide us access that historically didn't exist," the NASA chief added. "So, between our international and commercial partners and our increased budget, I think we're going to be in good shape to accomplish the objectives of Space Policy Directive 1."

We're talking about the surface of the Moon, right? Not the mini-ISS in lunar orbit that would give the Space Launch System somewhere to go?

Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration
NASA Cancels Lunar Rover
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Serious About Returning to the Moon

Related: Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview


Original Submission

NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview 4 comments

Rocket Report: Japanese rocket blows up, NASA chief ponders purpose of SLS (and other news)

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.[8][9] 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.[5]

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


Original Submission

Jeff Bezos Details Moon Settlement Ambitions in Interview 49 comments

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin are looking to partner with NASA and ESA to help create settlements on the Moon. However, he implied that he would fund development of such a project himself if governments don't:

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture will work with NASA as well as the European Space Agency to create a settlement on the moon. And even if Blue Origin can't strike public-private partnerships, Bezos will do what needs to be done to make it so, he said here at the International Space Development Conference on Friday night.

[...] To facilitate a return to the moon, Blue Origin has a lunar lander on the drawing boards that's designed to be capable of delivery 5 tons of payload to the lunar surface. That's hefty enough to be used for transporting people — and with enough support, it could start flying by the mid-2020s. Blue Origin has proposed building its Blue Moon lander under the terms of a public-private partnership with NASA. "By the way, we'll do that, even if NASA doesn't do it," Bezos said. "We'll do it eventually. We could do it a lot faster if there were a partnership."

[...] It's important to point out that moon settlement isn't just a NASA thing. Bezos told me he loves the European Space Agency's approach, known as the Moon Village. "The Moon Village concept has a nice property in that everybody basically just says, look, everybody builds their own lunar outpost, but let's do it close to each other. That way, if you need a cup of sugar, you can go over to the European Union lunar outpost and say, 'I got my powdered eggs, what have you got?' ... Obviously I'm being silly with the eggs, but there will be real things, like, 'Do you have some oxygen?' "

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  • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Thursday May 10 2018, @10:37AM (24 children)

    by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 10 2018, @10:37AM (#677786)

    Just an observation, that the stop-start nature of the US moon programme is reflected in other parts of the US science programme, e.g. the particle physics programme (with which I am familiar). I believe, as an outsider, that it is indicative of a significant, deep-seated failure of US science administration to think and act strategically. It's a shame because this sort of technology development rewards a long-term approach.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @11:29AM (21 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @11:29AM (#677792)

      It's difficult to have a long term strategy of any kind when priorities can change every 4 years. To compound the problem for NASA, they don'y have a mission that everyone can agree on.

      One of the smarter proposals that I saw a long time ago was to give them projects that could be accomplished (finished in 4 years) as well as being pieces that would have to be finished anyway as part of a potential larger goal.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by PiMuNu on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:27PM (4 children)

        by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:27PM (#677806)

        Or fund them for more than 4 years. That was sort of my point - US needs a funding model for science R&D which covers longer than a 4 year term, or does not allow politicos to interfere (cf Haldane principle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haldane_principle) [wikipedia.org]

      • (Score: 2) by ledow on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:37PM (5 children)

        by ledow (5567) on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:37PM (#677808) Homepage

        Gosh, you mean like a plan?

        I think that's exactly the point, isn't it?

        If you know things change every 4 years (not shocking, shouldn't be a surprise to rocket-scientists, for instance), then you make your plans generic, modular and compatible with that.

        You also do things that benefit all kinds of ideas, not just one particular plan. For instance, a deep space network benefits all possible space missions, not just domestic / lunar / Martian ones, and you can roll it out piecemeal with every single mission that launches - whether that's a component, a test, or an actual use of the implementation.

        People think that someone a billion-dollar industry doesn't have to ability to plan and see this coming. They do. They're smart people. What stymies it is that they AREN'T THE ONES DECIDING. Some idiot tells them what to do instead of listening. And then creams off a percentage to his aerospace component friends, or whatever.

        Like all government projects, etc. don't just assume that the people involved are stupid. They're not. They're very smart. They just also have the ability to lie and to use that intelligence and knowledge to do what THEY want (whether that's making money, giving their friend a job, or tanking an idea that they've been paid to tank) so they can pretend it wasn't the plan all along. They KNOW precisely what they are doing. They just don't CARE.

        Same as people who buy up Facebook stocks, etc. They know it's not worth that amount. They don't care. They're smart enough to know that it doesn't even matter what the stock market says it's worth. It's about PROFITING from it, which can mean buying cheap, building up hyper, selling off to some other idiot before it tanks. Lots of money made. Lots of intelligence and data used. But they don't care if Facebook tanks or not. They still make money. In fact they can make more money by it tanking if they are smart enough to then account for that.

        These kinds of people aren't stupid. They're just not aiming towards the same goal as a reasonable person would expect.

        If NASA was run by scientists, we'd be on Mars already. We'd have been there 30 years ago. Fact is, they got a break back in the 60's as part of a military focus to do one set of very useful missions that happened to coincide with lots of other requirements (military, political, etc.). Those missions then weren't so important any longer. And since then they've been operating in the same kind of way as they did pre-Apollo. Fighting for funding for basics against people who are just interested in getting their 10% out of them.

        Do you really think that people with PhD's in astrophysics are honestly sitting there allocating money how they like? No. It doesn't work like that. If it did, the world would arguably be a much better place. No, they are fighting to be heard against a sea of nonsense, to get enough grants, to stay in something vaguely related to the field they enjoy studying, and having to kowtow and explain their business case for such.

        • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Gaaark on Thursday May 10 2018, @01:30PM

          by Gaaark (41) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 10 2018, @01:30PM (#677835) Journal

          You also do things that benefit all kinds of ideas, not just one particular plan.

          I see returning to the moon as just that: a base on the moon, capable of building rockets/ISS/3D printers/etc, is ideal for future endeavours.
          --let's you work out problems with living on 'foreign soil', while still being relatively near to rescue if there is failure
          --low gravity: more fuel can be used for landing and returning, instead of just 'getting out of Earth gravity and atmosphere' (as well as less need to just dump crap (crap: small to large pieces of rocket/capsule-shredding metal) in orbit)
          --build an ISS around moon orbit: less orbiting junk around the already over-populated Earth orbit
          ---profit???

          I say Moon, then Mars.
          Most logical, Captain.

          --
          --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
        • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Thursday May 10 2018, @01:51PM (2 children)

          by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Thursday May 10 2018, @01:51PM (#677847)

          > If NASA was run by scientists, we'd be on Mars already.

          I respectfully disagree. NASA is a complex organization with 18,000 direct employees and a fleet of contractors easily 5 times that number. The person running it needs to be a leader first, a skilled supply chain manager second, and a bullshit detector third. The organization has literally thousands of people who can weigh in on the technical merits of a specific idea, but damn few who can reign in an out-of-control cost-plus billion-dollar contractor with a Senator in their pocket.

          That gap leads to lack of progress, that lack of progress leads to priority changes, and those changes feed back to the lack of progress. That's why we're not on Mars today.

          • (Score: 2) by Taibhsear on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:00PM

            by Taibhsear (1464) on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:00PM (#677893)

            The organization has literally thousands of people who can weigh in on the technical merits of a specific idea, but damn few who can reign in an out-of-control cost-plus billion-dollar contractor with a Senator in their pocket.

            Maybe they can get help from the military industrial complex. They seem to be doing great in that...

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by ledow on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:22PM

            by ledow (5567) on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:22PM (#677910) Homepage

            I think the first thing a scientist would question is:

            "Who's best to put in charge of getting out of the contractors exactly what our specification says?"

            There's no reason at all for the organisation to be managed by a "leader", when you're talking about the engineering side conforming to the scientific specification. Sure, someone, somewhere has to kick them into line and make sure they deliver. But that person shouldn't be outranking the scientists telling you what they want to actually achieve and how.

            If anything, the reason it fails it's because it's NOT done that way and someone who doesn't understand the technicalities is bullshitted by the people doing hard sell.

            "but damn few who can reign in an out-of-control cost-plus billion-dollar contractor with a Senator in their pocket."

            Which is why you don't want senators, contractors or anyone dealing with them making the decisions.

            A scientist would actually ensure they have a contract with specifications and penalty clauses for non-delivery, for example.

        • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:30PM

          by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:30PM (#677916)

          > Gosh, you mean like a plan?

          > If you know things change every 4 years

          I was motivating a change in the American system of governance. I like the Westminster system (but then I am from UK). I think the French single transferable vote system is very good as well for selecting a president - it seems to select against insanity. I am going more strongly against first-past-the-post for selecting a legislature; and for selecting a president, it seems just bonkers.

          You just need to get a reasonable group of people to agitate for it...

      • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:38PM (9 children)

        by Grishnakh (2831) on Thursday May 10 2018, @12:38PM (#677810)

        To be fair, the priorities normally only change completely every 8 years, not 4. It's very rare for a sitting President to not be re-elected; the last time this happened was GHWBush, and to be fair here, his single term was basically a 3rd term for his predecessor, Reagan, since he was Reagan's VP and his administration didn't do anything terribly different. The last time we actually had a true 4 year term that was different from both the preceding and subsequent terms was with Jimmy Carter.

        So you should be able to give NASA something to do within 8 years, except the problem here is that it seems that it always takes some time to change course when a new administration comes in, particularly if it's a Democrat President (they're usually loathe to change the bad policies of the previous administration, as we saw with Obama; Republican Presidents don't have this problem, they'll happily change stuff on Day 1).

        On top of the problem with us changing the party in power in less than a decade, we also have the problem that most of our population is a bunch of religious nuts, and doing hard science with a voting public that believes in kooky religious garbage is very hard. It's even worse these days with the Internet and all the "fake news" and other BS. Now we have a large portion of the population that believes in "Niburu", that vaccines cause autism, that Hillary participates in Satanic child-sacrifice rituals, that climate change science is a vast conspiracy to deprive them of their 10mpg pickup trucks, that the Moon landings were a hoax, I could go on and on. In short, our voting citizens are gullible morons.

        If we want to do serious space science that involves big, long-term missions, I think the best answer is to simply, when we get access to the money needed to do it, give it to ESA and JAXA and ask them to do it. We just need to finally admit to ourselves that we can't do any big projects any more, and that we should sit back and let someone else more capable, and who does a better job with long-term planning, do them instead, but with our funding help.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:14PM (3 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:14PM (#677860)

          I love how vaccines causing autism is just as unbelievable to you as moon landing hoax theories. One should be much more plausible than the other to a healthy mind.

          • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:29PM (1 child)

            by Grishnakh (2831) on Thursday May 10 2018, @02:29PM (#677874)

            There's zero evidence for it, you anti-science nut.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @08:19PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @08:19PM (#678091)

              No, there's very little plausible evidence that it is a considerable risk. Reactions to vaccinations aren't unheard of, they are just vanishingly rare, which is still a decent number when you're counting many millions. 99% of anti-vaxxers are illiterate morons, but their fears aren't entirely unfounded.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11 2018, @09:32PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11 2018, @09:32PM (#678578)

            Indeed, there was a heck of a lot riding on getting to the moon first. The incentive to cheat would be huge!

        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:00PM (4 children)

          by bob_super (1357) on Thursday May 10 2018, @05:00PM (#677994)

          The Presidency may only change every 8 years (please people, let's make an exception this time), but there are House/Senate elections every 2 years, giving outsized power to whoever bribed their official the most.

          • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Thursday May 10 2018, @06:21PM (3 children)

            by Grishnakh (2831) on Thursday May 10 2018, @06:21PM (#678035)

            The Presidency may only change every 8 years (please people, let's make an exception this time)

            Not gonna happen. I'd bet money on it. My prediction: the Democrats will again nominate some lousy candidate, who at best is completely wooden and uncharismatic, and at worst not only has the charisma of the stapler guy from Office Space but also seems to be corrupt, or is simply unpalatable to most of the population, and then will lose to Trump. It's quite possible they'll even nominate Oprah (a huckster who's pushed all kinds of pseudoscientific and other bullshit on her show, from anti-vax crap with Jenny Mccarthy to "the secret" to Dr. Oz's snake oil).

            but there are House/Senate elections every 2 years, giving outsized power to whoever bribed their official the most.

            That's a good point. Look what happened with Obama: he had a short time with a Democratic majority in Congress, and then pretty quickly the Republicans took over and he spent all his time fighting them.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @07:51PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @07:51PM (#678080)

              Obama had a super majority for two years and still couldn't get things done.

            • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday May 10 2018, @08:28PM (1 child)

              by bob_super (1357) on Thursday May 10 2018, @08:28PM (#678099)

              > pushed all kinds of pseudoscientific and other bullshit on her show, from anti-vax crap with Jenny Mccarthy to "the secret" to Dr. Oz's snake oil

              She can stomp Trump on his own turf, I guess :)

              • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Friday May 11 2018, @12:49PM

                by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday May 11 2018, @12:49PM (#678341)

                Nope, even Trump doesn't spew as much bullshit as Oprah has.

                I'm serious here: if the dumb-ass Democrats nominate fucking Oprah in 2020, I'm voting for Trump. I will not vote for someone who's peddled as much pseudoscientific bullshit as Oprah. At least Trump *tried* to make money somewhat honestly, by building buildings and being a reality TV star, trying to show off his supposed business skills. Oprah did more than probably anyone to give a speaking platform to the anti-vax movement, and is personally responsible for many peoples' (esp. childrens') deaths.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by DannyB on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:56PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 10 2018, @03:56PM (#677943) Journal

      it is indicative of a significant, deep-seated failure of US science administration to think and act strategically.

      Every four to eight years we have major upheavals in policy. Sometimes going opposite directions.

      How to make progress on your journey: Go north for a while. Now go south for a while. Now go north for a while. etc . . . repeat until you get somewhere!

      It's a shame because this sort of technology development rewards a long-term approach.

      We don't need no steenkin' long-term approach! This is the US darnit! We want the rich people rewarded in the short term. Screw the long term consequences! We will do anything to increase this quarter's profits, and thus bonuses -- even if we destroy the company business in the process! There is always the golden parachute. And investors not only don't mind this approach, they help create the environment and participate in it!

      --
      You can not have fun on the weak days but you can on the weakened.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @11:35PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @11:35PM (#678179)

        I know you're being sarcastic, but it seems to work. Maybe not as well as you like.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @06:36PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10 2018, @06:36PM (#678041)

    ... The NASA Administrator thinks he's in charge of NASA.

    History says otherwise.

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