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posted by martyb on Monday December 11 2017, @01:26PM   Printer-friendly
from the competition++ dept.

Who will make it to Mars first?

It was about a year ago that Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg first began saying his company would beat SpaceX to Mars. "I'm convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket," he said during a Boeing-sponsored tech summit in Chicago in October 2016.

On Thursday, Muilenburg repeated that claim on CNBC. Moreover, he added this tidbit about the Space Launch System rocket—for which Boeing is the prime contractor of the core stage—"We're going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we're going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon."

Unlike last year, Muilenburg drew a response from SpaceX this time. The company's founder, Elon Musk, offered a pithy response on Twitter: "Do it."

The truth is that Boeing's rocket isn't going anywhere particularly fast. Although Muilenburg says it will launch in 2019, NASA has all but admitted that will not happen. The rocket's maiden launch has already slipped from late 2017 into "no earlier than" December 2019. However, NASA officials have said a 2019 launch is a "best case" scenario, and a slip to June 2020 is more likely.


Also, the next SpaceX flight is an ISS resupply mission and is scheduled for this coming Tuesday (December 12, 2017) at 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST) from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The plan is for the booster to return to landing at Landing Zone-1, also at Cape Canaveral.

Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
Elon Musk Publishes Mars Colonization Plan
SpaceX Appears to Have Pulled the Plug on its Red Dragon Plans
SpaceX Putting Red Dragon on the Back Burner
SpaceX: Making Human Life Multiplanetary

Related: VP of Engineering at United Launch Alliance Resigns over Comments About the Space Launch Industry
ULA Exec: SpaceX could be Grounded for 9-12 Months
Commercial Space Companies Want More Money From NASA
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
SpaceX Unlocks "Steamroller" Achievement as Company Eyes 19 Launches in 2017
Trump Space Adviser: Mars "Too Ambitious" and SLS is a Strategic National Asset
SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by khallow on Monday December 11 2017, @03:54PM (2 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday December 11 2017, @03:54PM (#608291) Journal

    Musk is all sizzle and no steak

    Compared to Boeing? Let us keep in mind that SpaceX has already developed over the last 15 years two rockets, several rocket engines, a space capsule, reusable first stage, and is working on their own heavy lift vehicle, all for much less (like an order of magnitude less!) than Boeing would do with NASA money. Second, Boeing and NASA haven't developed new launch vehicles for a long time (as noted already, NASA hasn't successfully deployed a new launch vehicle since the Space Shuttle, Boeing since Delta IV Heavy in early 2000s).

    Sure, I could see the complaint having some validity. Musk makes a lot of claims and predictions, and these frequently don't work out. But Boeing is even worse at that.

    And the SLS is its own largest obstacle to doing anything with the SLS, including visiting Mars. NASA has had a pretty stable budget since the mid 1970s. It's not getting radically bigger. So an expensive launch vehicle like the SLS, which currently consumes [] $2 billion a year (not including Orion capsule which is another $1 billion a year), is going to drain the budget for manned space activities. In other words, NASA can pay for the SLS or it can do manned activities in space - not both.

    To elaborate on that, NASA estimated it would spend [] (see page 4) $3.4 billion in 2017 on "Space Exploration". Almost all of that (including "Exploration Ground Systems") is meant for SLS or Orion. NASA's total budget was almost exactly $18 billion. So almost 20% of NASA's budget is devoted to designing and building a rocket that they can't support and do any other manned activities with.

    In contrast, if they were to instead pay for launches on the Falcon 9, that would cost less than $3 million per metric ton ($61 million [] to launch up to 22.8 metric tons) to low Earth orbit (LEO). So an opportunity cost of SLS and Orion so far this year has been that NASA could have instead put up 1200-1300 metric tons of payload into LEO using the Falcon 9. That would, for example, be roughly the mass of propellant required for three 500 ton vehicles to travel to Mars or the mass of four International Space Stations in LEO. In other words, instead of working on a launch vehicle and associated capsule that might launch at the earliest in 2019, they could be launching as much payload this year as the SLS will launch in its first decade!

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 12 2017, @04:21AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 12 2017, @04:21AM (#608621)

    That's our khallow! Rocket Scientist! Entreprenuer! Privatiser of the Torture Dungeons of Abu Ghraib! More for less, he says! (Wait, does khallow actually know anything about rocket science? Did he fire an Estes once? Is he blowing smoke up our arses and telling us it is raining, AGAIN?)

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday December 12 2017, @05:23AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday December 12 2017, @05:23AM (#608647) Journal
      You know, you could read my posts on the subject. That would give you a better idea of how knowledgeable I am on the subject than saying stupid shit on the internets would. What can I say of you, who can't say anything useful or intelligent, but has this burning need to say something anyway? Sad.

      Moving on, estimates of the price of SLS (and its component parts) and the Falcon 9 are public record. The former is expected to spend something like $40 billion just to get to the point where the big version of the SLS launches for the first time with whatever payload it ends up carrying. $40 billion buys a lot of Falcon 9 launches and a lot of smart space science and exploration missions, even of the manned sort. It turns out that the SLS will never be economical. They require a peculiar supply chain with no other use, an army of workers, and maintain a hideously low launch frequency. It will never be competitive with even the worst commercial launchers out there (Delta IV, currently).

      You don't have to wonder whether I'm "blowing smoke up your ass". You can figure it out on your own by doing your own research. It won't take long, if you're any good with numbers.