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posted by martyb on Sunday February 11 2018, @01:32AM   Printer-friendly
from the it's-past-time dept.

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?

Regarding the Falcon Heavy maiden flight, Lori Garver had this to say on Twitter about the Tesla dummy payload (which has attracted some criticism):

I was told by a SpaceX VP at the launch that they offered free launches to NASA, Air Force etc. but got no takers. A student developed experiment or early tech demo could have led to even more new knowledge from the mission. The Tesla gimmick was the backup.

However, the offer may have been informal, or made too close to the launch date. And Elon Musk himself guessed that the Falcon Heavy maiden launch had a 50% chance of succeeding.

While skeptical of Elon Musk's plans to get humans to Mars by 2024, she also says that NASA employees often dismissed the Falcon Heavy launch as "never going to happen".

Now it has happened.

Here's a refresher on the costs of SLS development:

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 0, Troll) by Ethanol-fueled on Sunday February 11 2018, @01:59AM (3 children)

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Sunday February 11 2018, @01:59AM (#636209) Homepage

    The most simple analogy to approach this would be the Intel vs. AMD issue.

    Intel were dominant, prices were high. AMD put its dick in the mashed potatoes and thus had a high following of converts.

    If the ULA were smart, they would buy out SpaceX. If for some reason that couldn't happen, then a disruption of market would occur. It could happen gracefully, or there could be assassinations and/or sabotage. Never underestimate the capacity for humanity to realize goals regardless of cost.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Sunday February 11 2018, @02:33AM (2 children)

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Sunday February 11 2018, @02:33AM (#636219) Journal

    Elon Musk is a multi-billionaire, and is probably willing to sink more money into the company if it can ensure smooth BFR development and a human presence on Mars. Aside from hating and shaming ULA, SpaceX is also a private company so there's no chance of a hostile takeover. When will SpaceX go public? After it regularly flies to Mars, according to Musk.

    ULA's winning move could be to license SpaceX's technology. Musk could do it in a few years when the full BFR is almost ready to fly and lose none of his company's lead, get some extra money to help R&D along, and further his goal of making humanity a multi-planetary species.

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    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by tibman on Sunday February 11 2018, @05:06AM (1 child)

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 11 2018, @05:06AM (#636265)

      I think he'd license the tech if it helped move humanity off the Earth.

      Here's what he did for electric car tech:

      ... Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.
      ... Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.
      ... We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform. []

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      • (Score: 3, Funny) by Ethanol-fueled on Sunday February 11 2018, @09:36AM

        by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Sunday February 11 2018, @09:36AM (#636315) Homepage

        " . In other words, NASA could buy 10 Falcon Heavy launches for the coat of one SLS launch "

        Man, that must be some wicked coat.