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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: 2) by realDonaldTrump on Sunday February 11 2018, @07:01AM

    by realDonaldTrump (6614) on Sunday February 11 2018, @07:01AM (#636292) Homepage Journal

    You never want just one bidder. Because he thinks he can screw you in the ass. And he expects you to say "thank you." And probably he can. And probably you do. Russia, China, Europe, India, North Korea. They do satellite, they can put up satellites. And they can put up ICBMs, because satellite and ICBM are very similar. And some, I assume, are good people. Not North Korea but the others. We don't want them putting up our spy satellites. Because they're the people we spy on a lot. Them and the USA. We want someone from the USA to put up our spy satellites. But not just one guy. Even if it's Elon Musk. He's a great guy, I love him to death. Very smart, he knew cyber cash was the future so he started PayPal. When the guy who did Bitcoin, probably, was still in diapers. But if we make him the only guy, he'll screw our magnificent NRO very painfully, like any good businessman would. Look at the folks who bought Tesla cars, they get screwed very royally.

    So we try to keep a second guy in business. And some people say, "oh we're wasting money." It looks like we're wasting money, we're not wasting money. It's very expensive. But it's much more expensive when you only have one guy bidding. He has your nuts in a vise, he's tightening it, he expects you to say "thank you." And you say it. What can you do? Believe me, it's Fifty Shades of Gray without the fun.

    Same thing with our nuclear arsenal. We can pay a lot of money to massively upgrade our arsenal, to make it so strong nobody will want to fight us. Not even a crazy guy. Or we can have a very weak arsenal and spend even more money on wars. Because we'll get into so many wars it'll make our heads spin. Having the best nuclear arsenal is not cheap. It's much cheaper than all those wars!

    The lady who suggested this, I'm sure she means well. Obama put her in, but let's say she means well. She's a little plain in the face. She's not a spy, she doesn't know what our spies need. And most importantly, she's not a General. She hasn't run a modern Military.

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